Graham Reid | | 1 min read
This exceptional, and exceptionally consistent, group out of Portland with songwriter and novelist Willy Vlautin at its core has appeared at Elsewhere previously. Way back in 2005 with the penetrating album The Fitzgerald, and later for Vlautin's stark novel The Motel Life which invites favourable comparisons with writers such as Larry McMurtry, Cormac (No Country for Old Men) McCarthy and others who ride the lonely territory of life's losers and sudden violent acts.
While making a kind of expansive, south-west alt.country (more like Calexico than say James McMurtry), the narratives here remain refined and sometimes sound alarmingly personal. Vlautin, as his novel proved (there is another, I haven't read it) immerses himself in the worlds he writes about, if not in reality then certainly with an emotional attachment which is rare.
So when he writes he can find a tiny telling detail which explains more than a dozen sentences. The Pull here about an ex-alcoholic boxer ("he fought in Modesto and shattered his nose, he detached his retina in Fresno and then they made him quit") sketches in the outline and you (and the music) add colour.
There are sad stories here told in haiku-like detail: "she was on top of me when I saw her kid staring at me, man I didn't know she had a kid"; "you can keep living that hard if you want to, but the only point you got now is dying"; "I'd get off work but I wouldn't go home, I worked with nothing but old men so I'd drink forties in my car alone" . . .
As with The Fitzgerald, this is like a series of short stories or postcards from the borderland of the emotions, and the arrangements -- either suitably sparse or augmented with cello, trumpet, pedal steel etc -- take you straight to the heart of them.
This isn't always a dark ride, Vlautin and the band who are credited as co-contributers, have a real sympathy for their characters (A Letter to the Patron Saint of Nurses, the tragic 43) which brings this all home like a series of cinematic vignettes in black'n'white.
Another rare one from Richmond Fontaine.