Rich Krueger. NOWThen. RockinK Music

Final_NOWTHEN_Final_cover_hi_resIt’s just over a year ago that Blabber’n’Smoke stumbled across Rich Krueger, a man who has become our second favourite singing doctor (Hank Wangford is still No. 1, sorry, Rich). Krueger is a working medicine man in Chicago but he’s had a contemporaneous career as a musician with his band The Dysfunctionells (with the album title relating to this weird yin/yan) and in the past 18 months he’s launched himself solo with a vengeance, even attracting the attention of the self styled “Dean of critics, Robert Christgau. NOWThen is his second album in less than a year following on from the splendid Life Ain’t That Long and, as with its predecessor, NOWThen is a wonderfully meandering set of grand songs.

Krueger is an astute observer of human behaviour and he writes about it much in the way of wayward souls such as Randy Newman and Terry Allen. And although he fits somehow into the American folk scene being a winner at the 2018 Kerrville Folk Festival, the album veers through rootsy numbers spiced with Dobro and swirling organ, piano based jaunts, Asian exotica and Mariachi stylings. At heart however is his razor sharp observation which he translates into wordy yet incredibly enjoyable songs. The best example might be the coming of age tale Don where Krueger weaves a fantastic(al) tale of a teenage buddy who was a “contrarian,” an admirer of Nietzsche and Hitler although most of his classmates were Jews. The song flows along with a fine fiddle fuelled country swirl as Krueger’s words spill out – almost a screenplay in miniature – as he just about diagnoses Don as a sociopath before breaking down what one should imagine as an aural equivalent of theatre’s fourth wall as he asks, “Did I entertain you?” as the song ends.

Krueger can delve into history, singing about the Wright Brothers or Huey P. Long, the songs part story, part surreal. Then there’s his own experiences as on the opening song, Kenny’s (It’s Always Christmas In this Bar), dedicated to his local watering hole and delivered in a manner which, should Billy Joel ever hear it, have him weeping, as Krueger plays a doo wop flavoured piano led pop song which knocks Mr. Joel for six. The Cajun flavoured O What a Beautiful Beautiful Day is a warts and all depiction of the trial and tribulations of giving birth with Krueger noting that, on a chance encounter with Tom Waits, Waits’ advised him to, “Write about what you know,” and Krueger, being a neo natal doc, knows all about the bloody mess which surrounds a delivery. Elsewhere, Wittgenstein, Pope and Robert Browning are springboards for songs but pride of place here might go to Girls Go For Arse’oles, an apology of sort for most males’ behaviours towards the opposite sex with the title borrowed from Robert Crumb.

With a cast of players which include Robbie Fulks, Gary Lucas, John Fulbright and Peter Stampfel, the album is expansive and eclectic (there’s even a mock advert with the Colbert Report’s Erik Frandsen voicing Krueger). When Blabber’n’Smoke first noticed Krueger we said he was a maverick and NOWThen kind of confirms that but it’s important to say here that he’s an incredibly talented maverick.

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Robbie Fulks. The Admiral Bar, Glasgow. Friday 8th August, 2014

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A packed crowd attended this show from North Carolina born, Chicago based Robbie Fulks on this his first visit to Glasgow in around seven years and it’s a fair bet that a good percentage of them were at his last concert given the familiarity with his songs on evidence tonight. Taking time out from a UK tour with The Mekons to appear here while his companions headed up to Inverness prior to their show at Belladrum, Fulks elected not to have a night off citing his affection for promoters The Fallen Angels Club and recalling that he played their first ever Glasgow Americana festival all those years ago.

A tall guy, Fulks just about had headroom in this cellar bar but his main concern was the lack of air conditioning as the place was like an oven even before he came on. He didn’t complain mind you, instead it became part of his comic patter which throughout the show threatened to outshine his performance of his excellent songs. Hugely funny at times he gave us a great impression of Jonathon Richman as if he were a mixture of Spock and Napoleon Dynamite, imagined his pals, The Mekons, watching Tom Jones at Belladrum that night ( throwing in some Tom Jones’ hip shakes) while towards the end he freewheeled some improvised comic lyrics comparing Glasgow and Edinburgh and referencing Monty Python. If he weren’t such a great writer and performer he’d make a fine stand up comedian.

However we were here for the songs and Fulks rewarded us in spades. Opening with Georgia Hard his fine tenor voice had the audience spellbound while his guitar break was a fine reminder that he is a top notch picker. Rockbottom Population One followed before Fulks introduced a song from his latest album, Gone Away Backwards, explaining that the album was an opportunity to return to his roots with an acoustic bluegrass sound. Sometimes The Grass Is Always Greener certainly bore that out with his fine guitar work and lonesome voice sounding like a one man bluegrass band. Classic songs tumbled out of Fulks including I Push Right Over and, a highlight of the night and another song from Gone Away Backwards, I’ll Trade You Money For Wine where he placed a capo high on his guitar neck to produce a claw hammer effect and for a short time transported the bar to the Appalachians. This was shiveringly good.

Midway through Fulks asked for audience requests which were then thrown thick and fast at him and he obliged almost al. Cigarette State ( he congratulated the audience for laughing each time he repeated the line Alabama’s grand, the State not the band) featured another incredible guitar break which would give Richard Thompson a run for his money while Scrapple occasioned a great story on how he was offered a prime slot at a Scrapple convention before he enlightened the organisers on the lyrical content. The Buck starts Here was given a tremendous outing, again with an absurdly funny Owens story to go with it before closing requests with I Like The Bangle Girl. Let’s Kill Saturday Night ended the show before Fulks returned with his sublime doggerel and finely an upstanding She Took A Lot Of Pills And Died which had the crowd on their feet as he left the stage and walked around them.
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Soaked to the skin almost Fulks finished and headed straight to the merch table where he gracefully spoke to just about everyone in the room as they filed by. He was still there when we left humming several of his songs and wondering how long before he comes back. One of the best shows of the year so far.

Robbie Fulks Glasgow show.

This Friday there’s a rare opportunity to catch the always excellent Robbie Fulks close up in action. Fulks is one of the greats of modern country music, a fantastic writer and performer, solo or with a band backing. His 1996 album Country Love Songs is a classic with She Took A Lot Of Pills (And Died) a personal favourite here. Last year’s release, Gone Away Backwards, is a tremendous collection of gentler, mostly acoustic country folk songs which Mojo called his best yet while Rolling Stone placed it in their top ten country albums of 2013.

Fittingly the show’s being put on by Glasgow’s Fallen Angels Club as Fulks played at their first ever Glasgow Americana Festival. Friday is a solo appearance and if he’s anywhere close to the form he was on when I saw him several years ago in the 13th Note then it should be a belter of a night. Great songs and wicked humour going hand in hand.

Tickets here