In 2005, Robbie Fulks released "Countrier Than Thou," a song with a rockabilly twang and Bukowski ramble that skewered the hypocrisy of those who lambast mainstream country but come from anywhere but the south (and, while he was at it, took a shot at George W. Bush, too). The Ivy League-educated Fulks, who lives in Chicago and has been making roots records for almost two decades, has never been particularly concerned with honoring birthright over creativity — and his newest collaboration with England's cowpunk pioneers the Mekons is proof incarnate. Together, they created Jura, a collection of songs recorded during their 2014 U.K. tour. The song "Beaten and Broken" is premiering exclusively below on Rolling Stone Country.
"It sounded fun, to my wife at least," Fulks tells Rolling Stone Country about the idea to head across the pond with the Mekons, a trip that would give rise to Jura. "She said, 'Go to Scotland with the Mekons? How could you not?' It has to be said that she hasn’t historically always had my best interests at heart. 'Beaten and Broken' was my favorite of the songs they sent me to learn — it's fucking brilliant."
Originally featured on the Mekons' 1989 compilation Original Sin, Fulks' vocals and strident strumming on "Beaten and Broken" transforms the song into half working-class bluegrass anthem, half Gaelic traditional, made even more poignant by the fact that it was recorded during the time when the Scottish were voting for independence. Or, maybe, the song was always that potent. After all, when the Mekons released pioneering albums like Fear and Whiskey in the Eighties, it wasn't exactly commonplace to mesh leathered British punk with Nashville-born riffs. Now paired with Fulks, whose breed of folk honky-tonk mastered and satirized the same genres all at once, "Beaten and Broken" sounds natural, if not a little dangerous.
"We asked Robbie if he'd like to come on an adventure, and fill in for various missing Mekons," says John Langford of the Mekons, about the unusual tour's origins. "Tom [Greenhalgh] normally sings 'Beaten and Broken,' and one of Robbie's tasks was to be Tom, which was kinda strange when Tom turned up unannounced halfway through the tour. Robbie changed the words of 'Beaten and Broken' and we enjoy the result." Indeed, Fulks made small tweaks like swapping "died" for "sighed" at no expense to the raucous flow.
Fulks described Jura, the sparse Scottish isle that inspired the album and where it was recorded, as a place with "200 people, many more sheep, many, many more bottles of whiskey, and some number beyond fathoming of rocks and trees and clods of dirt." In other words, perfect fodder for a record that captures the feeling of restless freedom dangling above great instability. With lots of whiskey thrown in for good measure.
Jura will be released via Bloodshot Records on Black Friday Record Store Day, November 27th, and will only be available digitally and on limited-edition vinyl.
Here's Jura's full track listing:
1. A Fearful Moment
3. An Incident Off St. Kitt’s
4. Shine on Silver Seas
5. Land Ahoy!
6. Beaten and Broken
7. Getting on With It
8. I Am Come Home
9. The Last Fish in the Sea
10. I Say, Hang Him!
11. Go From My Window