Reviews:: Richmond Fontaine Thirteen Cities

From the opening moments of Richmond Fontaine’s new record, you are transported into the dustbowl of rural America. As the brassy, southwestern horn section explodes on Move Back Home #2, you get swept up in record, and more importantly the stories that lead vocalist Willy Vlautin tells.

At first, you might sense a familiarity with the subject matter. Down on your luck is a common theme for an Americana/country outfit, but combined with the horn work of Calexico, this surprisingly poppy opener describes a simple situation – a down and out man living in his mom’s basement, with no signs of ever changing - so perfectly, so effortlessly.

The theme of the record makes a distinct change. Vlautin’s characters struggle with the battle between apathy and the desire to change; wrestling with guilt and regret. Although constrained by a simple life, these characters struggle as they try to overcome mistakes and try to become more than they are. On $87 And a conscience that get worse the longer I go, Vlautin’s character tries to separate himself from the evils he is constantly around. That inner battle continues on I fell into painting houses in Phoenix, Arizona. Over a sparse acoustic and harmonica driven riff, again Vlautin’s character is troubled by what he sees around him. After working with a Mexican boy (supporting his wife and kid that still live in Mexico) painting a house for five days, he leaves the jobsite on the last day knowing that the boy will never get paid. It’s too much for him, so he quits a dead end job, summing up his thoughts beautifully with the lyric, “I ain’t shit, but I ain’t that way.”

It’s no surprise Vlautin’s characters are presented like those in a book, especially when he’s a published novelist, but the band doesn’t take a back seat to his lyrical efforts. I’m not sure if the band was inspired by recording in Arizona instead of their Portland home (but still letting JD Foster steer the ship), but the tales of small town drifters are captured perfectly with the diverse musical landscape the band creates. The sound is beefed up; expanding on the sparse sounds I fell in love with on The Fitzgerald but diversifying on the pleasantry of Post to Wire.

Whether it’s the gentle pedal steel, instrumental interludes wrought with energy and emotion (Ballad of Dan Fanta), or changing tones with the slow building crescendo of the rocking Four Walls, Richmond Fontaine has the ability to match Vlautin’s lyrics perfectly. Musically, the sounds accompany his words, rather then try to overpower them. The cymbal wash and jazzy horns set the tone of The kid from Belmont Street, a harrowing tale of a drifter trying to impart wisdom, bleak as it may be, to a kid about to follow along the same path.

Lyrically, the most gripping track is The Disappearance of Ray Norton. The song opens up the world of a man who loses everything because of his anti-Mexican racism. The spoken word piece is gripping, highlighted by gentle instrumentation that pokes through his narrative of a man recounting the life of a confused man overcome with hatred.

These songs don’t offer easy solutions or happy resolutions. Vlautin stays true to the characters he is creating, as the bleak settings and scenarios are presented with an inviting musical backdrop. I guess they are a welcome invitation to a party you’d never want to attend.

MP3:: Move Back Home #2
Video:: Capsized

@ 3:39 AM, Anonymous kicked the following game:

Nice review...


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