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Richmond Fontaine - Winnemucca

  by John Clarkson

published: 5 / 6 / 2002

Richmond Fontaine - Winnemucca
Label: El Cortez Records
Format: CD


Striking and lyrical fourth album from Portland, Oregon "country punks" Richmond Fontaine which, rich in cinematic atmosphere, uses a pedal steel as a main instrument

While “country punks “ Richmond Fontaine’s last album “Lost Son’ was a dark, abrasive offering, that concentrated principally on death and murder, the band’s new album 'Winnemucca’ has been described by the band’s frontman and lyricist, Willy Vlautin, as the after effect of living hard, and the recovery from the bender of the night before. “Lost Son’ was primarily a punk album, while ‘Winnemucca’ in contrast is a country rock record of cinematic and atmospheric soundscapes, which largely dispenses with electric guitars and uses instead guitarist Paul Brainard’s pedal steel as a main instrument. The album takes its name from Winnemucca, a small, isolated gambling town in Northern Nevada which Vlautin and the other members of the Portland, Oregon based Richmond Fontaine have been visiting and playing shows in for years. Many of the songs that appear on the album were written or are set there. Much of the lyrical melancholy of ‘Lost Son’ has been carried over on to 'Winnemucca', but this time around Vlautin has decided to largely focus on inner psychological turmoil rather than melodrama. ‘Santiam’ captures the anguish of a prisoner leaving his family home to start an eighteen month sentence in a work prison and hoping that things will remain the same for when he gets back, while “Northline’ concentrates on a boy’s love and longing for an unsuitable skinhead girl. There is, however, some cause for hope and optimism though as well. The opening track, ‘Winner’s Casino’, describes its protagonist’s delight at being back in Winnemucca and able to escape from the world for a while ‘Out of State’ meanwhile chronicles the wigged-out bliss of two lovers hiding out in isolated splendour in a motel room. While Vlautin is a taut , evocative lyricst and vocalist, the other three members of the band, however, are also given plenty of opportunity too to show their worth. Two instrumentals, the breezy ‘Twyla’ which is dedicated to the Portland jockey Twyla Becker, and the swirling, experimental “Patty’s Retreat’, which is named after Vlautin and bassist Dave Harding’s favourite Winnemucca bar, dominate the middle section of the album. Brainard’s meandering fret work, and Harding and drummer Sean Moore’s solid, subtle playing throughout the album is examplary. The band , however, save until their best trick until last with the seven minute final number “Western Skylight’. While their instrumentation has been insular and subdued, it is the one point on “Winnemucca’ in which they allow themselves to let rip and to rock out. The song , the most autobiographical track on the album, is about the death of Vlautin’s uncle in a hunting accident when Vlautin was a boy, and is written from the perspective of the friend who held the uncle as he died. “We will walk down the streets under colored lights/ and we will walk arm in arm as beautiful women walk on by” sings Vlautin, catching both the vulnerability and bravery of the hunting partner as he promises Heaven , and tries to lead his dying friend into the after life, before the band, which has been slowly building in tension, kicks in and brings the album to a forceful and emotional end. An impressive haunting album and one of the alternative rock and country highlights of the year so far.

Track Listing:-
1 Winner's Casino
2 Out of State
3 Northline
4 Santiam
5 Twyla
6 Patty's Retreat
7 Glisan Street
8 Somewhere Near
9 5 Degrees Below Zero
10 Western Skyline

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Interview (2016)
Richmond Fontaine - Interview
John Clarkson speaks to Willy Vlautin, the vocalist and songwriter with acclaimed Portland, Oregon-based Americana band Richmond Fontaine about its tenth and farewell album, ‘You Can’t Go Back if There’s Nothing to Go Back to'
Interview (2009)
Interview (2007)
Interview (2005)
Interview (2004)
Interview (2002)

live reviews

Greystones, Sheffield, 25/4/2016
Richmond Fontaine - Greystones, Sheffield, 25/4/2016
Keith How enjoys Richmond Fontaine's literary Americana at a gig in Sheffield on their farewell tour
Luminaire, London, 22/5/2007
Borderline, London, 28/9/2004
Spitz, London, 25/5/2004

digital downloads


We Used To Think The Freeway Sounded Like A River (2009)
Cinematic and atmospheric eighth studio album from Portland, Oregon-based group Richmond Fontaine, which, while often sadly bleak in its subject matter, is also emphatically life affirming
Thirteen Cities (2007)
Post To Wire (2004)

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Richmond Fontaine frontman and singer-songwriter Willy Vlautin talks to John Clarkson about his new band the Delines, their debut album 'Colfax', and 'The Free', his recently published fourth novel

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