Song 240: Robbie Fulks, “Tears Only Run One Way” (1996)

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The fact that the whole universe doesn’t know and love Robbie Fulks is a tragedy. He’s a funny and immensely talented singer and songwriter, and he’s one of the best guitar players I’ve ever seen. He was lumped in with the “alt-country” bands and singers back when that was a thing, but, acerbic wit aside, he’s the least “alt” country musician around. In many ways, Fulks plays traditional country, as if the music of Buck Owens and George Jones never stopped burning up the charts. In other ways, there’s nobody like him.

The lyrics of “Tears Only Run One Way” are crazy clever. The central idea—that the things going bad are never going to get good again—is represented by tears falling down, down, down, and “never back the way they came.” Surrounding that idea are phrases like “my friends say I should find a new direction” and “there’s no two ways about the way that I feel right now.” The song is full of downs, ups, ways, directions… but it’s no use. There’s only down.

That all makes “Tears Only Run One Way” sound like a massive bummer, but it’s really lovely, from the gentle swing tempo to the pedal steel that adds a layer of sheen that makes the whole thing go (ahem) down easy. The song is so good that it sounds equally great—if not better—in an acoustic setting.

Robbie Fulks is a master musician, singer, and songwriter, and if you ever have the chance to see him in concert, you must. You’ll never regret it.

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