A mostly rollicking revue of gleeful recklessness.
On their collaborative album Wild! Wild! Wild!, Robbie Fulks and Linda Gail Lewis make it clear that they’re looking back on wild country living with far more joy than repentance. If these backward glances seem to land far in the past, that’s no surprise. Lewis, the sister of Jerry Lee Lewis, naturally has some stories to tell. Fulks arrived much later, debuting in 1996 with Country Love Songs, but he’s always been part of the past; eternally the same age in some sort of mythic country and western world. The pair turn their attitude and history into a mostly rollicking revue of gleeful recklessness.
Opener “Round Too Long” has the sort of boogie piano line that suits Lewis, who guesses that she’s “a wild one still.” The album’s thesis statement becomes apparent: Lewis has been wild for a long time, she’s still wild, and she doesn’t care. The pleasure undermines that offer that she’s been “around too long”; she clearly doesn’t believe that. Thoughts of mortality have more to do with advertising Jack Daniels than with sober self-reflection.
Fulks rocks with her every bit of the way, and when he slows it down on the next number “I Just Lived a Country Song,” he presents a more thoughtful take on being archetypical. He sings, “I can’t recall the early ’90s/ These last 10, I’d rather not,” with genuine concern. Even with the change of tempo, the disc risks becoming one-note. We get more tracks like “Wild Wild Wild” and “Boogie Woogie Country Gal” (you can guess the piano sound on that one) whether in lyrics or instrumental style focus on continuing self-identification. This focus could limit an album, regardless of how well it’s performed.
Wild! Wild! Wild! skips into other areas enough to keep the disc fresh. Fulks has always shown a knack for humor, and here he passes it to Lewis on “Till Death,” a dark-humor song about hastening the termination of wedding vows and marital parting with a little force (though this sort of humor has its own limits. “Memphis Never Falls from Style” melds blues and jazz influences with a hint of New Orleans. Surprisingly – given the rebellious streak through the album – the pair turns to gospel for the old “On the Jericho Road,” a little Sunday morning after Saturday night.
Whatever they’re doing, Fulks and Lewis plunder broad country traditions with ease. Fulks’s original “That’s Why They Call It Temptation” sounds like it must have been written 50 years ago, even with his always sharp insight. Their cover of “Who Cares” updates a classic with Lewis’s verve, but it very much maintains his throwback appeal. The duo simultaneously sound caught in the past and energized into the future. Tracks like “It Came from the South” would make as much sense on an old Sun Records compilation as they would on a future Bloodshot playlist. Between their styles and their lyrics (mostly written by Fulks), the group comes across a little like living history. Fortunately, the music’s never just a history lesson. Wild! Wild! Wild! features two artists and their high-quality band just letting loose in their comfort zone, and if it’s not groundbreaking, it’s still fun.