I discovered Richmond Fontaine when they were touring Australia a few years back. On a rainy mid week night in Canberra I saw them supporting magnificent local band Bluebottle Kiss in front of a “crowd” of eight. It seemed like an odd pairing then. Still does. Richmond Fontaine-hard luck and heartbreak, country rock that went from quiet to loud and louder still. Bluebottle Kiss-hard luck and heartbreak, rock that went from quiet to loud and louder and louder and louder still. Maybe not so different after all.
After the gig I approached frontman Willie Vlautin and told him how I dug the show. I asked if anyone had ever told him that he sounded like Jay Farrar, and he said yeah, they had. In hindsight I wish I had of asked him what he thought of Australia and Canberra. He’s the sort of songwriter that can capture the essence of a place and a time by barely saying a thing. Years later I read his book The Motel Life. Good god it’s sad. But so, so beautiful. And so sparse.
This new album contains new elements to the Richmond Fontaine sound, though it is distinctly the same band. Deborah Kelly contributes lovely vocals on a few numbers and we don’t hear Vlautin’s fresh-hangover-flavored vocal until track 3. I’ve always loved the instrumental breaks on Richmon Fontaine albums, atmospheric pieces that are placed perfectly between Vlautin’s dense stories of good times gone bad and the High Country. It gives their albums a cinematic quality, as if the band are pushing what country rock and roll can be.
I hear they are making a film of The Motel Life. It could be wonderful. They better not fuck it up.
In a lengthy back story on this albums Band Camp page, Tyler Lyle goes into the pains and joys that shaped this music. I like gaining access to an artists inspiration and the stories behind the songs. Some may argue that this detracts from the mystery of a piece of art-it should be open to interpretation, it should be abstract-and as much as I agree with this, is this also not a somewhat selfish pursuit? In doing this you are making the performance personal to you by relating it your own experience. God it’s not all about you.
It’s a good thing to entirely remove yourself and just listen to someone else’s story. There’s a entrancing power to experiencing an artist pouring their innards out while tears stream down their face and they tell of their deepest pains and fears. I don’t believe it’s perverse or voyeuristic to be moved by this. I think it’s human.
With improved diction quoting european fiction
This is a terrific line. This album’s full of them. It’s a small thrill to hear such lyrics, original lyrics that are devoid of cynicism. As a lyricist, Lyle is a gifted craftsman. Musically, this is by no means a progressive affair but that’s not a bad thing. It’s simple folk music with a country edge that’s adorned with gorgeous instrumentation. The soft flutes on the killer opener of “The Golden Age & The Silver Girl “, the chest heaving horns on the albums centre piece “Love Is Not Enough” and the pristine strings that accompany the beautiful guitar and banjo throughout conspire to build a great modern folk album.
Your careful ways and your angry face; well they’re still looking pretty good to me
Lyle has created a fine, fine album here. An album that curls up inside you on the first listen and takes up permanent residence. It always pays its way. And did I mention it’s a break up album? I like those too. (Break up albums). (Not break ups).
First there is a drone. An ethereal hum. Then comes an acoustic guitar riff not dissimilar to “Needle and The Damage Done”. As Neil said : "It’s all one song."
For all the hoo-ha about the death of the music industry and the demise of tangible recorded music, there is little talk of the growing redundancy of the band. The rise of the All Seeing One Man Band is well upon us. In my treks across the sprawling badlands of Band Camp, I discover so many musicians whose bedrooms are not just their creative habitat but also their recording studios, their mixing desk and, quite possibly, their stages. Whether the technology has encouraged these solitary beasts to proliferate or merely provided us access to their output is another discussion, but it is intriguing to observe.
Recently I saw one of these creatures in public, in full flight. With a guitar, several dozen pedals and an electronic noisemaking machine of some sort, this fellow built a full band sound that was mightily impressive. Other bands on the bill squirmed. Rightfully so. Of course the band-the group, the ensemble, the collective- will never disappear completely-just as books never will-however I would suggest we will see more and more of super talented bedroom musicians smoking muddled bands from the stage.
So to the pick. Sandy Gilfillan records this beautiful bedroom music under the name Yes Know. It is lovely folky ambience, it is all space and light and enveloping electricity. It is the sound of an artist performing his craft. There’s a draw to this music, a lulling vacuum. It’s hard to define. You know it when you hear it.