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Tuesday, February 09, 2016

ROUTES & BRANCHES  
a home for the americana diaspora
February 6, 2016
Scott Foley

Willy Vlautin's music frequently lacks a chorus.  With Richmond Fontaine he writes poetry of the down and out.  Vlautin's lyrics often don't rhyme, and it can be difficult to sing along to. 
I sat in the movies / Drank off a pint until I fell asleep / Until a nervous 16 year old kid / Was telling me I had to leave / I know what you abandon dies / What you leave leaves you too / I know you can't go back / If there's nothing to go back to 
 That said, there's nobody who writes like Willy Vlautin, in such a plainspoken, unadorned vernacular (perhaps Mark Kozelek, though Vlautin is a far superior storyteller).  The veteran Portland band has announced that its new You Can't Go Back If There's Nothing To Go Back To will serve as its tenth and final record.  Their last CD, 2011's High Country, was a largely spoken concept album, so it's especially heartening to hear more standard song structures on the new collection.  With his more recent project, the Delines, Vlautin's writing has taken on a different timbre more fitting of that outfit's country-soul vibe.  Parts of You Can't Go Back recall the band's phenomenal The Fitzgerald and Thirteen Cities, both records that could rock as effectively as they delivered Vlautin's portraits of desperation and doubt.  "Wake Up Ray" focuses on a singular moment when a pet bird is released into a snowstorm:  All I did was try to toe that line / The same line you see everyone else toe / Now all I remember is running through the snow / Looking for Little Joe as the wind blowed.  The new record simmers with these moments of parting, relationships whose expiration date has come and gone like the man in "A Night In the City" who tries his hardest not to head home after work:  Is this all there is? / Is this what life is? / A job that means nothing / A woman who sleeps right next to you / But she ain't yours at all.  The stories begin at these dead ends, be it a relationship, job or way of life.  What prevents these bleak stories from becoming indulgent is Vlautin's obvious sympathy for his characters.  It's a heavy album often played with a light hand by the quartet, along with Jenny Conlee-Drizos' keys and Paul Brainard's perfectly melancholy pedal steel.  As with Willy Vlautin's novels, there are few moments of ease, though they are there and they are fleeting.  You Can't Go Back draws Richmond Fontaine's deeply satisfying run to a close with "Easy Run":  I'll sit next to Annie / Underneath the table she'll hold my hand / And no longer will I mess up anything

* Emmylou Harris & John Prine, "Magnolia Wind" This One's For Him  (Icehouse, 11)
* Lyle Lovett, "Anyhow I Love You" This One's For Him  (Icehouse, 11)
* Guy Clark, "New Cut Road" South Coast Of Texas  (Warner, 81)
* Dori Freeman, "Go On Lovin'" Dori Freeman  (Free Dirt, 16)  D
* Lucinda Williams, "Can't Close the Door On Love" Ghosts Of Highway 20  (Hwy 20, 16)
* Left Arm Tan, "Fading Away" Alticana  (LAT, 13)
* Luther Dickinson, "Hurry Up Sunrise" Blues & Ballads  (New West, 16)
* John Hiatt, "Love's Not Where We Thought We Left It" Master Of Disaster  (New West, 05)
* Smooth Hound Smith, "Gettin' Around" Sweet Tennessee Honey  (SMH, 16)
* Charles Bradley, "Change For the World" Changes  (DapTone, 16)
* White Denim, "Ha Ha Ha Ha (Yeah)" Stiff  (Downtown, 16)
* Hiss Golden Messenger, "Still Life Blues" Parallelogram  (Three Lobed, 16)
* Parker Millsap, "Pining" Very Last Day  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
* Joe Pug, "Hymn #101" Nation Of Heat  (Joe Pug, 07)
* Julien Baker, "Rejoice" Sprained Ankle  (6131, 15)
* Chris Bathgate, "Big Ghost" Old Factory  (Quite Scientific, 16)
* Mary Chapin Carpenter, "Something Tamed Something Wild" Things That We Are Made Of  (Thirty Tigers, 16)  D
* Loretta Lynn, "Who's Gonna Miss Me" Full Circle  (Sony, 16)
* Wilco, "One Hundred Years From Now" Alpha Mike Foxtrot  (Nonesuch, 14)
* Harvest Thieves, "Part-Timer's Lament" Rival  (Holy Mt Sounds, 16)
* Rachel Brooke, "Ghost Of You" World's Greatest Anchor  (Brooks Robbins, 16)
* Tin Horn Prayer, "Once More" Love Will Under  (THP, 16)  C
^ Richmond Fontaine, "Let's Hit One More Place" You Can't Go Back ...  (Fluff & Gravy, 16)
* Wood Brothers, "American Heartache" Paradise  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* Carrie Rodriguez, "La Ultima Vez" Lola  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
* Pines, "Hanging From the Earth" Above the Prairie  (Red House, 16)
* Marlon Williams, "Hello Miss Lonesome" Marlon Williams  (Dead Oceans, 16)

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