Album Reviews

Richmond Fontaine – You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To – Album Review

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Richmond Fontaine – You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To – Album Review by Killian Laher

Richmond Fontaine release their tenth album of a twenty-odd year career, and all the soundings are is that it’s their last.  Lumped in with the alt-country set, they were never quite as country as The Jayhawks, nor as folky as Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, nor as rocking as Wilco.  But in Willy Vlautin, singer and songwriter turned author, they have a craftsman of some fine homespun tales wrapped up in song.  Their last album, 2011’s bleak-as-f*ck The High Country, was a fine artistic statement but wasn’t particularly representative of this band.

On previous albums, their laid-back alt-country music jarred a little with Vlautin’s wordy intense tales.  But here they seem to match perfectly.  Opening with the brief, cinematic instrumental Leaving Bev’s Miners Club At Dawn, a simple swathe of picked guitars blends with Paul Brainard’s gentle whine of steel guitar, drawing the listener into the album.  Songs like Wake Up Ray and the breezy country of I Got Off The Bus don’t outstay their welcome, but showcase Vlautin’s way with a resonant line.  All the things people say about Bruce Springsteen, evoking downtrodden middle America, they apply here with lyrics such as “I sat by the river, the sky was full of stars and the water was rustling”.

The more stripped down material such as Whitey And Me, and the wonderfully titled I Can’t Black It Out If I Wake Up And Remember are deceptively simple, yet emotive.  Nothing is overplayed, a brushed drum here, a dash of steel guitar there.  One accusation levelled at this band is the songs aren’t that memorable.  Don’t Skip Out On Me is like a classic Stones ballad, like Wild Horses or Angie, with a real chorus that you can sing along with.  The bitter Two Friends Lost At Sea harks back to The Boyfriends (from 2009’s We Used To Think The Freeway Sounded Like A River), both musically (Brainard’s trumpet) and in subject matter (“I don’t care if she plays my old Armstrong records to him”) and later (“my blood still bleeds doom and my eyes see it too”).  Elsewhere Three Brothers Roll Into Town perfectly evokes a feeling of stasis, going nowhere.  The song has no discernible tempo, just a plucked guitar and Vlautin singing about “time don’t mean anything when you’re 16, 19 and 20”.

The album rounds off on two powerful tracks, the downbeat strum A Night In The City sounds like a typical night out for any of the characters in Vlautin’s songs or books (“I got sick behind a car, slept against a bank wall, ate at Annie’s Donuts and made it to work on time”).  Easy Run is a plaintive piano ballad which almost acts as a summation of Richmond Fontaine’s career as Vlautin sings “Do you think an easy run could find us? Do you think that someday that might happen for me?”

While you have to buy into Richmond Fontaine to really immerse yourself in their albums, this time it appears all the elements have coalesced in the best possible way.  Vlautin makes the humdrum sound important.  His is not a classic voice, but it’s a voice that hits you hard in the gut.  This is considered stuff, music that you need to take time with and appreciate it.  If this album is their last, it’s a fine note to finish on. Vlautin will continue with his other band, the Delines, and the word is he has also finished another book.

Tracklist:

1. Leaving Bev’s Miners Club At Dawn
2. Wake Up Ray
3. I Got Off The Bus
4. Whitey and Me
5. Let’s Hit One More Place
6. I Can’t Black It Out If I Wake Up And Remember
7. Don’t Skip Out On Me
8. Two Friends Lost At Sea
9. Three Brothers Roll Into Town
10. Tapped Out In Tulsa
11. The Blind Horse
12. A Night In The City
13. Easy Run

Album trailer:

 

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