"Georgia Hard"

Yep Roc

Robbie Fulks is best known for "[Expletive] This Town," his kiss-off to Nashville, the city that gave the Chicago singer-songwriter a publishing deal and a major-label contract and then had no idea what to do with his brilliant but idiosyncratic songs. In retrospect, Fulks's farewell number was the false bravado of a jilted lover who still carried a torch. He was back in Nashville recently to record "Georgia Hard," an album that betrays an undiminished love for the city's mainstream-country history. The city would be wise to seize this offer of reconciliation, for these are some of the smartest, catchiest, funniest and warmest country songs we're likely to hear this year.

In his liner notes, Fulks says that this, his first album of new material in four years, was inspired by such early '60s countrypolitan songwriters as Bob McDill, Bill Anderson and Roger Miller. There are some terrific songs in that vein: the McDill-like storytelling of the steel-laced title track, the Andersonlike romance of the string-wrapped ballad "Leave It to a Loser" and the Millerlike comedy of the barroom skit "I'm Gonna Take You Home (And Make You Like Me)."

But the album also contains a sparkling bluegrass number pushed along by Sam Bush and Alison Brown ("Where There's a Road"), a punchy Bakersfield two-step ("Each Night I Try"), a country-swing instrumental named after lead guitarist Redd Volkaert ("Right on Redd") and a hilariously vicious attack on alt-country snobs ("Countrier Than Thou"). Fulks is an alt-country hero himself, but such songs as "I Never Did Like Planes" and "You Don't Want What I Have" sound a lot more like Alan Jackson than Ryan Adams, and that's high praise indeed.

-- Geoffrey Himes

Appearing Saturday at Iota.

Robbie Fulks's "Georgia Hard" plays like an ode to his country roots.