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Spectacular fifth album from Richmond Fontaine, which finds the usually bleak Oregon-based Americana group looking more optimistically towards the future
Willy Vlautin, Richmond Fontaine's frontman and lyricist, has described his group's fifth and latest album, 'Post to Wire', as their most hopeful record to date.
The Portland, Oregon-based Americana group have in the decade they have been together created some very dark records. Indeed, upon initial impression, the story-based 'Post to Wire', which features on its front cover a painting of a beaten-up trailer home with the words "This is the Land of Broken Dreams" scrawl-painted on the side, looks like it is set to come from a similarly black place.
There are some very bleak moments. The menacing 'Hallway', which thrusts guitarist Paul Brainard's warped, askew pedal steel to the fore, is based on a real life incident, and tells of a mentally sick friend of Vlautin's whom the younger Willy discovered when he failed to make a planned meeting hiding from imaginary demons in his hall closet and carrying a gun. The protagonist of the belligerent, abrasive 'Williamette' meanwhile is a 16 year old boy who believes he and his trick-turning mother are saved from Skid Row when his older brother re-emerges after two years away with a never ending supply of money. Then, just as quickly as his brother has reappeared, he once more disappears.
Overall though, in comparision to 1999's third album, 'Lost Son', which was a collection of punk murder ballads, and 2002's fourth album, 'Winnemucca', a taut country record, whose principal characters included a convict on his last day of parole and the dying victim of a hunting accident, 'Post to Wire' is, as exactly as Vlautin says, both lyrically and in mood a far more optimistic piece. It is also Richmond Fontaine's most versatile record, incorporating together elements ,as well as punk and country, of folk and the blues.
"For a little while it was like/The whole world was alright like/No one was beaten or forsaken or had given up" croons Vlautin on 'Polaroid', a gently waltzing number, in which two tortured lovers find brief respite from their troubles with kind strangers in a bar. It sets a tone for much of the rest of the record. Rather than being about being stuck in the storm, 'Post to Wire' is principally about taking refuge and comfort, however temporary, from it.
Escape and redemption are common themes. A long married couple with a lot of bitter emotional baggage between them briefly try to reconnect on a road trip, after she is suspended from her job on the swirling, electrical opener 'The Longer You Wait'. The wistful, gentle blues of 'Barely Losing' tells of an ideal three day vacation spent gambling in Reno ("We're walking along the railroad tracks/At five in the morning/Wishing we could always be like this/That we'll never have to go back"), while the title character in the tender, balladic 'Allison Johnson', much maligned and put upon in an unpublished short story of Vlautin's, is given a reprieve and finds love with a good man.
The breezy, rumbustious title track, the band's first duet, which also features Deborah Kelly, the gutsy lead singer with Austin-based band the Damnations, meanwhile has as its central characters a constantly bickering couple, who nevertheless against the odds decide to stay with each other. ("If everyone screws up and I know that we both do/Doesn't it make sense me with you ?/If you and me if we blow it when it's/The last thing we should do/Don't you think we should stick together ?)
Interspersed amongst the songs are a set of comical spoken word interludes, set against a meandering folk backdrop, in which a pathetic ne'er-do-well called Walter Denny sends postcards home after having pawned his best friend's parents' wedding ring and television. Over the course of the album, the hapless Walter is beaten up, has his hand broken, thinks of committing suicide, nearly joins the navy and by the end has fallen in with a bad crowd, but one gets the impression, that, whatever else life throws at him, unlike many of Vlautin's previous characters, he will somehow survive.
There are few easy solutions on 'Post to Wire'. Many of its stories and tales are left open-ended, and one doesn't always know how things are going to work out. It captures life as it is though in the raw with all its different shades of blacks, whites and greys,and complexities, horrors, and occasional joys.
The results are both regal and erudite.
The Longer You Wait
Walter's On the Lam
Postcard From California
Two Broken Hearts
Postcard Written With a Broken Hand
Post to Wire
Always On the Ride
Postcard Postmarked Phoenix, Az
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