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Thursday, May 08, 2014

ROUTES & BRANCHES  
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
May 3, 2014
Scott Foley

There's great songwriting and then there's the writing of Willy Vlautin.  Previously a musician who also wrote novels, Vlautin has morphed into a novelist who also writes songs.  The frontman for Richmond Fontaine, Vlautin is the author of four excellent stories, including February's The Free.  He'll also go down in my book as the force behind what just might be my favorite record of 2014, the Delines' Colfax.  While his is not the voice you hear (that'd be the Damnations' Amy Boone), those are his words, so perfectly couched in the latenight country/soul groove created by Boone, Richmond Fontaine's Sean Oldham, Decemberists' Jenny Conlee "and friends" (including Tucker Jackson's pedal steel and Freddy Trujillo's bass).  I'm a tremendous fan of Vlautin's previous work, but in some ways the music on Colfax seems to have more in common with his books than his albums.  These are stories that just happen to have been written for Amy Boone's voice.
“Amy’s voice has always stopped me in my tracks,” says Vlautin. “It’s all heart, beat-up but tough, vulnerable and worn. I’ve always wanted to work with her, so when she gave me the chance I spent a year writing songs for her. I wanted to write songs like her voice: songs that might have a drink in the morning but they still make it to work.”

Colfax's opener, "Calling In", floats atop a wash of wheezing keys, pedal steel and skittery guitar, sounding like an outtake from Cowboy Junkies, circa '88's Trinity Session.  Matter of fact, after scratching my brain a bit, I realized that it's Margo Timmins that Boone's voice recalls for me.  "Oil Rigs At Night" and "He Told Her the City Was Killing Him" are pure Vlautin, stories of folks broken by life:  "Now she's starin' out the window and gettin' old / Such a price to pay for not wantin' to be alone ..."  "I Won't Slip Up"  could be the collection's centerpiece:  "Just take me as far as Lombard Street / I'll go to Little Sam's just to have a couple of drinks / I'll catch a ride back home / Don't worry about me / I get so tired, always worrying about me ..."  It's a near perfect slice of the sort of country/soul that is all but extinct nowadays, a slow burning heartbreaker when songs are in so much of a hurry to make an impression. 

While poking around the web recently, I came across an Irish radio interview with Willy Vlautin.  The talk focused mostly on The Free, but the host indulged him to play a couple tracks of his choosing.  Vlautin played a wonderful early Candy Staton, a lesser known piece by sadsack jazz trombonist/vocalist Jack Teagarden and a classic Drive-by Truckers song.  Maybe not so remarkably, in triangulating those diverse points one would land mighty close to the final song he offered, one by the Delines. 


*  Wayne Hancock, "Brand New Cadillac"  That's What Daddy Wants  (Ark 21, 97)
*  Will Hoge, "A Different Man"  Never Give In  (Cumberland, 13)
*  Jimbo Mathus, "Shine Like a Diamond"  Dark Night of the Soul  (Fat Possum, 14)
*  Jolie Holland, "Route 30"  Wine Dark Sea  (Anti, 14)
*  Justin Townes Earle, "Poor Boy"  Midnight At the Movies  (Bloodshot, 09)
*  Nikki Lane, "Love's On Fire"  All Or Nothin'  (New West, 14)
*  Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison, "Lonely For You"  Our Year  (Premium, 14)
*  Secret Sisters, "Rattle My Bones"  Put Your Needle Down  (Republic, 14)
*  Bottle Rockets, "Hey Moon"  Bottle Rockets/Brooklyn Side reissue  (Bloodshot, 13)
*  Joseph Huber, "Two Tongued Swear"  Hanging Road  (Muddy Roots, 14)  D
*  Natural Child, "Saturday Night Blues"  Dancin' With Wolves  (Burger, 14)  D
*  Edward David Anderson, "Nothing Lasts Forever"  Lies & Wishes  (Royal Potato Family, 14)
*  Dwight Yoakam, "Guitars Cadillacs"  Guitars Cadillacs Etc Etc  (Reprise, 86)
*  Old 97s, "Longer Than You've Been Alive"  Most Messed Up  (ATO, 14)
*  Jason Isbell, "Alabama Pines"  Here We Rest  (Lightning Rod, 11)
*  Old Crow Medicine Show, "Sweet Amarillo"  Remedy  (ATO, 14)  D
*  John Howie Jr & Rosewood Bluff, "Blue"  Everything Except Goodbye  (Self, 14)
*  Lydia Loveless, "They Don't Know"  Somewhere Else  (Bloodshot, 14)
*  Dave & Phil Alvin, "Southern Flood Blues"  Common Ground  (Yep Roc, 14)
*  Emmylou Harris, "Deeper Well #1"  Wrecking Ball reissue  (Nonesuch, 14)
^  Delines, " Wichita Ain't So Far Away"  Colfax  (El Cortez, 14)
*  Sturgill Simpson, "Turtles All the Way Down"  Metamodern Sounds In Country Music  (High Top Mt)  14
*  Josh Nolan, "East Ky Skyline"  Fair City Lights  (Self, 14)

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