On paper, a duet album featuring Robbie Fulks and Linda Gail Lewis doesn’t look promising. Fulks has always had a sardonic, tongue-in-cheek relationship with country music, and Lewis is the little sister of a legend, Jerry Lee Lewis. To use a sports cliché, though, that’s why they play the game.
Wild! Wild! Wild! Is one of this year’s best albums, though, and could go all the way. (Okay. Turning off ESPN now). This album’s duet title track finds these two strange bedfellows raising a little Cain with a rollicking, Sun Records-worthy rocker. “That’s Why They Call It Temptation,” though, is a horse (this time a blue hue) of an entirely different color. With an arrangement featuring steel guitar and tearful honky tonk piano, this sad, sinful duet recalls George Jones and Tammy Wynette’s best musical collaborations. Fulks’ sawing fiddle colored “I Just Lived a Country Song” is a sincere tribute to his musical heroes. No, it’s not one of those songs where, if you play it backwards he gets out of prison and his dog comes back. Instead, it’s sung from the perspective of a contemporary country singer paying the dues for keeping it real. “I can’t recall the early 90s/These last ten I’d rather not,” he mournfully admits. You can no longer question Fulks’ sincerity after hearing this one; he’s all in, all the way.
Not everything on this effort is dead serious, though. Lewis sings “Till Death,” which transforms a marriage vow into a death threat. “We said till death do us part,” Lewis recalls during the chorus, “and that’s now.” The track ends murderously with a gunshot sound effect. There is also plenty of musical variety scattered throughout, as “Memphis Never Falls from Style” finds Lewis singing over an old timey jazz arrangement. Lewis proves her Jerry Lee Lewis sisterhood with the piano-pounding “Boogie Woogie Country Girl.” “Foolmaker” is a Fulks straight up soul song, featuring organ and empathetic backing vocals. “Your Red Wagon” swings with Jimmy Smith-esque jazz organ. Then the album gets calm, calm, calm with the acoustic guitar gospel of “On the Jericho Road.” It’s sweetly honest and church-worthy. To quote The Killer, all this variety will leave you breathless.
Sometimes, what looks suspicious on paper turns out to be genius. Such is the case with Wild! Wild! Wild! It’s not crazy weird, like Jerry Lee Lewis’ long hair back during his heyday, but a rewardingly expansive survey of Americana music’s best elements. Let’s hope this is just the beginning of a special musical partnership.