thu 18/08/2022

CD: Richmond Fontaine - You Can't Go Back If There's Nothing To Go Back To | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Richmond Fontaine - You Can't Go Back If There's Nothing To Go Back To

CD: Richmond Fontaine - You Can't Go Back If There's Nothing To Go Back To

A fine final chapter for the masters of widescreen Americana

No pat resolutions for Willy Vlautin's characters, but there's hope for The Blind Horse

News that Richmond Fontaine were calling it a day with one final album and tour was not itself a surprise: across latter-day releases, from at least 2009’s We Used to Think the Freeway Sounded Like a River, the music had become progressively incidental, an increasingly subtle backdrop to frontman Willy Vlautin’s surprisingly widescreen storyteller’s vision of small-town Americana.

Their decision to tie up loose ends with one final album, described by Vlautin as “an end piece for all the characters who inhabited the world of Richmond Fontaine over the years”, is not one most bands would take – but then, there are few bands whose music is as intrinsically linked with its own internal world as Richmond Fontaine.

Vlautin’s approach was always that of the novelist rather than the songwriter, even before the first of his novels was published to critical acclaim; and the vignettes on this final album pay even less lip-service to the traditional verse-chorus-verse than usual. It’s hard to properly describe Vlautin’s speak-singing narration and the humanity which which he brings his characters to life: the guy walking out of the strip club, disenchanted and dissatisfied with his lot, on “A Night in the City”; the down-on-his-luck protagonist reminiscing his way through “I Can’t Black It Out If I Wake Up and Remember” – these people don’t get quotable couplets, or pat resolutions. The spotlight may move on, but the stories continue.

And yet the result is neither complex, nor depressing: for this last hurrah, the band’s subtle flourishes bring these stories to life with the warmth and familiarity of Richmond Fontaine records of old. Paul Brainard’s plaintive pedal steel elicits sympathy for even the most downtrodden of scoundrels on “Whitey and Me” and “I Can’t Black It Out”, guitar and drums add a brightness to the protagonist’s lowest points on “I Got Off the Bus”, and the note of hope in a major key that bursts through the album’s instrumental makes you confident that the titular “Blind Horse” will live out the rest of his days like the end of Black Beauty. So not just a final chapter, but a strong addition to the body of work that will be the band’s legacy.

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