Music

Border Radio

Roots & Americana

You can cram that heart-shaped box of See's Candies up your back passage, and cancel the champagne; Border Radio doesn't go in for candlelight and romance come February 14. Nevertheless, this year the date is circled on our calendar: We'll be celebrating Valentine's Day at the Sunset Tavern, with Chicago maverick country vet Robbie Fulks. (Fulks also plays Tues Feb 15 at The Sweethearts' Hangover Ball on Vashon Island.)

Fulks may seem an unlikely choice for a Valentine. This is a guy with records to his credit including 2001's Couples in Trouble (featuring "Mad at a Girl"), to say nothing of "Parallel Bars," his rip-roaring Kelly Willis duet about feuding spouses in a too-small town. Love songs? Well, there's always his homage to Susanna Hoffs, "The Bangle Girl," from the 1999 Bloodshot odds-and-ends anthology, The Very Best of Robbie Fulks.

Truth be told, Fulks' romantic life is more stable than his catalog might imply. "Not to disappoint anyone who is really into my songs, and relates to them emotionally, but most of them aren't autobiographical," he reveals. In fact, he's been contentedly married for 12 years.

Fulks has a new album, Reality Country, slated for a May release on Yep Roc Records. Alas, advance music wasn't ready for our perusal. But according to Robbie, the 15-song set is "a pretty hardcore country record, with a bit more of a 1970s slant than my previous country records. More songs about mortgages and adultery. The '70s--and by 'the '70s,' I mean '65 to '85--was a ripe era for cheatin' songs in country music." To recreate the vibe of that era, he tapped many of the old-time Nashville vets who previously played on 2004's Fulks-produced Touch My Heart: A Tribute to Johnny Paycheck.

When it comes to music for wooing, Fulks--who also hosts the monthly radio show "Robbie's Secret Country" on XM Satellite Radio's X Country channel--has a penchant for particular grooves, rather than specific songs, to set the mood. "One is this country, up-tempo, two-beat groove, like you might hear on 'She's a Yum-Yum,' by Dallas Frazier, or 'Love Bug' by George Jones." He also boasts a penchant for "flowing, Beatles-based power-pop," singing a couple bars of the Raspberries' "I Wanna Be with You" down the phone line to illustrate his point.

As for break-ups, he says he's only been dumped once. "I've had a really happy last 15 to 18 years of my life." That said, there is one Valentine's Day that sticks out in his memory, the one, almost 20 years ago, when his first wife told him to hit the road. "That was miserable," he admits. "February in Chicago, snow on the ground, leaving my young son behind, thinking I wouldn't be seeing him much again, and going off to a friend's grimy apartment to sleep on his couch for a couple months."

Perhaps it's best Robbie doesn't crack open his diary when he writes songs; that last one sounds like a potential heartbreaker.

kurt@thestranger.com

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