The Delines – Colfax
In 2011 Richmond Fontaine delivered one of the best albums of the year. Set in a small logging community, The High Country was a simple, but powerful album-length story of love, jealousy and, without giving away too much of the plot, murder. Partly narrated, partly sung, it was the culmination of Willy Vlautin’s work to that time. The acclaimed novelist and the established songwriter coming together to create something genuinely new. It was a tough act follow and it’s perhaps no surprise that, since then, Vlautin has focused almost exclusively on the long form of his writing, not least because he’s so much in demand. Now, though, he’s back musically and in a super-group of sorts. With help from members of his own band, The Decemberists, The Damnations, and others, many of the themes on Colfax will be familiar to long-time Richmond Fontainers. Confessions of couples clinging to relationships because they’ve little else going on in their lives. Vignettes from folk in crummy jobs who see only the prospect of precariousness in front of them. The narratives are no less moving for being familiar. On the contrary, it’s the everyday familiarity that makes them so moving. Musically, despite the 1950s name, things are never bent on big balladry or faux doowoppery. Instead, the sound is understated. The guitars weep almost continuously, but imperceptibly. And if the careworn vocals sound similar to those of Deborah Kelly on The High Country, then it’s because her sister, Amy Boone, is centre stage this time. Colfax is an exceptional album. Songs like ‘Calling In’, ’82nd Street’, and ‘Colfax Avenue’ itself would grace any Richmond Fontaine album. Yet it’s much more than just a Willy Vlautin solo album with a female vocalist. ‘Sandman’s Coming’ with just piano and vocals is a case in point. And, without giving away too much, no one gets murdered.