Jackson stays at my place, ’cause he ain’t got a home…

IMG_1846Gah! I’m annoyed with myself.

I’ve had a nice leisurely Bank Holiday Weekend, shooting the breeze, watching footie and yet somehow not got round to writing this up… *Smacks head theatrically*. Great evening too.

Richmond Fontaine, The Bullingdon

My second trip to Oxford’s fine Bullingdon, saw the arrival of the ever-enjoyable Willy Vlautin and Richmond Fontaine. Actually, as I write that, it makes it look like Vlautin’s chums are no more than a backing band, the musicians who provide background colour for his extraordinary song/story writing gifts. If I’d bothered to pay attention to stuff, of course, I’d know that songwriting credits are not exclusively Valutin’s; but as I hadn’t (routinely don’t) it was left to this evening to make it clear to me that RF are a proper band, Vlautin repeatedly referring to drummer Sean Oldham as “the leader of the band”.

It seems a bit late in the day to have made this discovery, although not as late as I did at one time believe. Turns out from talking to Dan Eccles after, there’s another tour this Autumn, which will be their last. (After which, he revealed to me, exclusively if you will, that one of the projects he intends to work on the setting up of a piano tuning business. You read it here first…)

Eccles and bassist Freddy Trujillo came out and chatted for ages to people after what was a long set, and it all went to reinforce the idea you couldn’t help but form watching the set – they’re a really decent bunch of fellers. Vlautin particularly comes across as self-effacing, ordinary and likeable, introducing many of the songs with charming, incidental stories. A bloke you could find yourself chatting to for ages over a few drinks…

They played for coming on for two hours, including two encores and 22 songs drawn from pretty much all the albums (although the latest “You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To” featured heavily). Vlautin’s story telling talents were much in evidence and were enhanced by his part-drawled, part-sung delivery. Eccles’ guitar work was also pretty remarkable, light at times, heavy and almost ungainly at others. He’d already done a set previously, backing support act Fernando (who was also very good) earlier in the evening, so he could’ve been excused for wanting to get off early.

The Bullingdon is great for sound and the recordings are OK, with wild cheering and clinks of bottles being thrown into bins at the bar, all adding to the atmosphere. I’m attaching a particular run of three (four) great, great songs that came one after each other towards the end of the evening. You’d be a fool not to…

The Boyfriends

Lost in the Trees / Willamette

We Used to Think the Freeway Sounded Like a River

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…