The Delines: Colfax (Decor Records)
Music for late nights, early mornings and whisky soaked hangovers. Willy Vlautin of Richmond Fontaine lends a hand. Joe Whyte reviews.
Colfax is the debut album from The Delines who hail from Texas and comprise Amy Boone (who is in The Damnations as well as Richmond Fontaine), alongside the keyboard work of Jenny Conlee (The Decemberists) with Portlanders Sean Oldham and songwriter/novelist Willy Vlautin (Richmond Fontaine) and on pedal steel, Tucker Jackson (Minus 5). Vlautin was beguiled by Boone’s aching tones during Richmond Fontaine recording sessions and has assisted in producing as well as writing most of the material. Taking it’s cues from soul as well as roots and Americana, Colfax is a late night journey round the places and characters of the mid-west nightlife and the bars and brawls so beloved of Vlautin in his books and the RF records. If you’re not familiar with his novels, they are well worth searching out; his weary tales of hard bitten people and the day to day struggles of these most ordinary Joes are less bleak than one would assume and are blackly laugh out loud at times. The Motel Life is currently receiving the big screen treatment and this Lynchian, American gothic novel may well be quite something on film.
Vlautin’s songs are never short of character themselves; the weirdos and street people that occasionally inhabit them are almost as interesting as the bartenders, single moms and cab drivers that they’re centred on. Calling In adds a healthy dollop of 60s soul to the typical Vlautin mix of rootsy melody and is a neat tale of a couple who resort to immersing themselves in “gin fizz” and closing the curtains instead of the daily toil of working. As is usual with Vlautin lyrics, there’s a little dose of bruised romance to sweeten the marginalised couples life and the line “let’s never go back, darkness ain’t such a hard road if we don’t go alone” is typical of the sentiment inherent in the album.
The Oil Rigs At Night showcases Boone’s voice to the full; she has a rich, damaged tone to her vocals that suit the material perfectly. It’s a song of longing and loss but is strangely uplifting despite that. The pedal steel swoops and swoons from Jackson enhance the aching tone of the song.
The songwriting is never short on melodic nous despite the sometimes stark arrangements. Vlautin is a man who understands well the beauty of leaving space in a song to let it breathe. Flight 31 is a languid, ghostly presence and it drifts along in a midnight, opiated haze that leaves one wanting more. A cover of Randy Newman’s Sandman’s Coming sits amongst the other songs as if it had every right to. It would be easy for Vlautin to drop into cliched sentimentality but Boone’s creamy tones and the sheer verve of his lyrics and arrangements lifts this above parody. These characters live lives of broken hearts, discarded dreams and relationships gone South; Vlautin (and the band) have created an album that tells stories that will make you laugh, weep and think in equal measure.
All words by Joe Whyte. More writing by Joe on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.
The Delines are on tour here-
June 2 :: Cyprus Ave, Cork
June 3 :: Errigle Inn, Belfast
June 4 :: Whelans, Dublin
June 5 :: Cleeres, Kilkenny
June 6 :: Dolan’s Warehouse, Limerick
June 7 :: Roisin Dubh, Galway
June 8 :: Stoke Newington Literary Festival (Willy reading & solo gig)
June 9 :: Rough Trade East, London (full band in-store)
June 10 :: The Lexington, London SOLD OUT
June 11 :: Railway, Winchester
June 12 :: St. Bonaventures, Bristol
June 13 :: The Maze, Nottingham
June 14 :: Art Bar (Bullingdon), Oxford Tickets
June 15 :: The Greystones, Sheffield
June 17 :: Hare and Hounds, Birmingham Tickets
June 18 :: Night and Day Cafe, Manchester Tickets
June 19 :: Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
June 20 :: Oran Mor, Glasgow Tickets
June 21 :: Jumpin Hot Jamboree, Easington Colliery, Newcastle Tickets
June 22 :: Palmeria, Brighton Tickets
June 25 :: Mississippi Studios, Portland, OR
November 12 :: Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen, London