Thursday, September 10, 2009

Album Review: Richmond Fontaine - We Used to Think The Freeway Sounded Like A River


Richmond Fontaine are a sort of "alt-country" band and have been going since the mid 90s. Largely the vision of singer, frontman and main songwriter Willy Vlautin, they have 7 previous albums under the belt. Vlautin ia also a published author and his songs, like his accomplished novels, are largely downbeat, focusing on drifters, deadbeats and losers trying to find their way out of desperate situations.

Vlautin's voice can grate a bit and some of the overtly country songs I can take or leave. One of the main problems with some Richmond Fontaine songs is they work well as stories but feel forced into songs with the music grafted on. Vlautin is, however, an excellent story-teller (his 2nd novel, Northline is a must-read).

This album opens with the title track, a gentle song, very relaxed where he depicts a crummy lifestyle, where they lived next to an abandoned house with a broken pool full of shopping carts, and they pretended it was their swimming pool. After a short instrumental (Northwest), there follows one of their more upbeat songs, You Can Move Back Here, which sounds a little like REM. This is followed by the unsettling The Boyfriends, where the protagonists realises his new girl has a child, and he imagines how the kids feel, all to the accompaniment of a sad mariachi trumpet.

The Pull is an another sad story delivered over relatively quiet backing, and is followed by a barely audible instrumental. Maybe We Were Both Born Blue is, despite the title, one of the more upbeat numbers with a kind of wistful countryish backing. Watch Out is another quiet song, consisting mainly of Vlautin whispering 'watch out' but the next track 43 is more intense, possibly the most intense on the album.

Lonnie is as close as they have come yet to mainstream rock, while towards the end of the album Two Alone is another intense moment, with a simple but driving melody. The final track, A Letter to the Patron Saint of Nurses (great title) is a spoken word piece over a quiet backing which is surprisingly effective.

Overall this won't convert anyone, but is a good addition for fans of their music.