T-Shirts and Snow Globes…

TheDelinesMainThe keen-eyed readers of Partly Porpoise will no doubt have noticed a certain paucity of lyrical content in a lot of the music I’ve been banging on about this year. Fine as it (clearly) is, there’s not a lot to chew over or ponder in the Chicha and Cumbia tunes have I’ve been plugging obstinately. (Unless you speak Spanish of course, and in spite of any pretensions I may have suggested of recent, my Spanish is nowhere near good enough to glean anything but the most basic of information from the songs of Lucho Bermudez or Los Mirlos. But actually, thinking on this, I doubt I’m missing a whole lot…).

So anyway, I bought this a fortnight ago…

Delines

Bit slow on the uptake with the Delines – folk on my Twitter timeline have been all over this for a good while now – “record of the year” an oft-repeated phrase of late – but, you know, better late to the party than not at all, eh? (A PP motto, if ever there was one…).

The Delines are Willy Vlautin’s latest side-project (as far as I know, Richmond Fontaine are still a goer…), with RF drummer Sean Oldham amongst others, and chiefly including the steady-gaze of Amy Boone at the mic. Boone takes on pretty much all the singing duties on Colfax, the new band’s first record, giving life to a series of sensitively written character sketches penned by Vlautin. There are some really strong new songs here, such as State Line, Colfax Avenue and The Oil Rigs at Night – all of them great stories told, as ever with Vlautin’s customary economy and leanness of tone.

It’s a lovely record (it really is) but somehow it just got me listening again to one of my favourite Richmond Fontaine records, Post to Wire, which has dominated the car-stereo for a whole week now. In classic RF style, it’s loose and tight at the same time, compact but full of space. Wonderful record.

Here’s the title track, performed at Rough Trade East, with Vlautin accompanied by Amy Boone:

It’s a classic, outlaw country duet, isn’t it? In the spirit of Johnny and June or Gram and Emmylou, with Vlautin’s limited, broken growl complemented here by Amy Boone but on the record by Boone’s sister, Deborah Kelly. As title track of the record, it is, of course, always going to be a significant song, but it’s still worth saying that it sets the tone for the whole record – second chances to be grabbed, tiny indulgences granted, old cares forgotten.

As an album, I love it for all the familiar Vlautin traits – brokenness, misery, story-telling, characterisation – but also for its themes of forgiveness and a measure of self-acceptance. Despite the loveliness of the title track, the sovereign tracks are Barely Losing, with its grudging acceptance that Life is occasionally almost worth living; Polaroid (“not everyone lives their life alone…”), an episode of material dependence on the kindness of strangers (with more than an echo of Colfax Avenue on the new record) and Through, which has one of my favourite opening lines – “You walked with a limp, and I worried about that”.

It wouldn’t be a Richmond Fontaine record without some really (really) dark moments, such as Hallway – “put down the gun, looks like you’ve been up for days…”, based on a real event, apparently – and the pitiful/less The Longer You Wait. Vlautin is nowadays an award-winning novelist that I’m hoping to become acquainted with very soon (Santa, take note…), but I’ll be surprised if he can come up with a picture as crushingly poignant as this, with its pair of worn out, defeated lovers holding each other up in mid-life, through force of will and habit. The economy with which he creates a pen portrait like this marks him, I reckon, as a song-writer right up there with the very best. Hardly ever repeats himself, doesn’t bother filling in any lines that don’t need joining, really trusts the listener (or, maybe, just doesn’t worry about him…)

Barely losing, indeed…

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