Richmond Fontaine: "We Used to Think the Freeway Sounded Like A River" (Southbound)

 |   |  1 min read

Richmond Fontaine: A Letter to the Patron Saint of Nurses
Richmond Fontaine:

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. 

Share It

Your Comments

Flightlessbird - Aug 25, 2009

Hey Graham - Thanks for the great review ( as always you are the source of information, on material, unobtainable easily elsewhere - scuse the pun )...Love these guys.
Willy's other book " Northline " is a similar tale to " This Motel Life ", and is a bonus in that it includes a 13 track CD of mostly instrumental tracks ( as far as I know not released separately )...Two for the price of one - it doesn't get much better than that. Regards.

bern - Sep 21, 2009

Hi - do you know if these guys are coming to NZ/Australia anytime soon?

graham reid - Sep 22, 2009

I know of no plans for anyone to bring this terrific band to NZ/Australia. Maybe they'd struggle for an audience? It seems only Elsewhere people know of them!
G

Phil fryer - Apr 14, 2011

Willy's new book -Lean on Pete-is als a great read!

post a comment

More from this section   Music articles index

Laura Cantrell: No Way There From Here (Thrift Shop/Southbound)

Laura Cantrell: No Way There From Here (Thrift Shop/Southbound)

Cantrell is emblematic of what “country” can mean today. Nashville-born (where she hosted an oldtime music radio show), she studied law and accountancy in New York which is... > Read more

Simon Comber: Endearance (CNZ)

Simon Comber: Endearance (CNZ)

Halfway through this slowly engrossing New Zealand singer-songwriter's album is the gently penetrating song Please Elvis, which opens with the singer asking the King not to make his mother cry as... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

THE FAMOUS ELSEWHERE QUESTIONNAIRE: Mark Lanegan

THE FAMOUS ELSEWHERE QUESTIONNAIRE: Mark Lanegan

Mark Lanegan has, as they say, been putting himself about a bit. Formerly of Screaming Trees who rode the grunge wave out of Seattle, he joined Queens of the Stone Age in 2000 when the Trees broke... > Read more

THE SOUND OF THE PAST COMING ALIVE: The Whittaker's Musical Museum on Waiheke

THE SOUND OF THE PAST COMING ALIVE: The Whittaker's Musical Museum on Waiheke

The journey takes less than an hour from downtown Auckland, but at its end you have stepped back in time. Here the sounds of the 19th century fill the air: the rich swell of notes from a... > Read more