For an album to connect,
the songs have got to change your perspective. Make you think. Draw you
in. That's what'll happen when you check out Lost Son, the seductive, incisive
third record from Richmond Fontaine. It's a flowing collection of songs
that slow down and drift into sorrow or rev up and soar into rage. It's
Willy Vlautin's finest moment as a songwriter, a flexing of narrative skills
that brings to life seedy characters and unfortunate souls.
Every song's about a guy
that gets himself into a fucked-up situation," says Vlautin. "Or gets himself
out of one."
The Reno, Nevada-born singer
and guitarist got himself into the fucked-up situation of fronting a band
in 1996, shortly after setting up shop in Portland, Oregon. Naming the
project after a character in one of his short stories, Vlautin led Richmond
Fontaine to the forefront of the Northwest's countrified punk scene. The
band's first two discs, Safety and Miles From (both on Cavity Search),
garnered comparisons not only to lik~minded acts from Uncle Tupelo to the
Minutemen, but also to darkly evocative fiction writers such as Raymond
Carver and Larry Brown.
For Richmond Fontaine's
third Cavity Search record, Lost Son, Vlautin penned a set of excruciatingly
detailed songs, then worked out the lively musical arrangements with bandmates
Dave Harding (bass), Paul Brainard (pedal steel, mandolin, backing vocals)
and Joe Davis (drums). The quartet spent three weeks at Portland's Jackpot
Studios, with ex-Freewheelers frontman Luther Russell producing, and with
engineering help from Larry Crane and Joanna Bolme (who've worked with
Elliott Smith, Quasi, and the Spinanes). To insure the band's highest quality
sound to date, the tapes were sent off to John Fischbach, the New Orleans
engineer and producer who's lent his skills to a diverse catalog of artists
from Stevie Wonder to the Circle Jerks.
Richmond Fontaine's songs
have always sounded effective even in their rawest form, but this team
of experts has crafted an album that lets the creepiness and catharsis
in Vlautin's stories cut through like never before. The icy strings of
acoustic guitar and mandolin heighten the drama in the haunting tale of
foul play on a mountain road, "Cascades." Echoed drums (played by ex-Fabulous
Thunderbird Jimi Bott) and pedal steel twang underpin the eerieness surrounding
a runaway in "15 Year Old Kid in Nogales, Mexico." Songs about shady characters
("Ft. Lewis," "Pinkerton," "Muddy Conscience") match Vlautin's hardened,
disgruntled vocals with a relentless punk stomp. In the stunning album
closer, "Hope & Repair," cello, violin and acoustic guitar set a melancholic
background for a stirring mystery about a man who tries to rescue a prostitute
from the streets, with tragic results.
"When we were recording
that song," Vlautin recalls, "Everybody in the studio had a different idea
of what happens to the man and the prostitute. I wanted to let people decide
People don't usually get
so engaged in an album that they care what happens to characters, but Lost
Son is a different kind of record. It changes your perspective. It makes
you think. And, like a great novel or an enrapturing film, Lost Son draws
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CSR 42 RICHMOND FONTAINE
Combining elements of punk,
country, and folk music, the members of Richmond Fontaine provide a captivating
backdrop for the heart-wrenching tales of lead singer Willy Vlautin. Vlautin's
lyrics, which are often compared to the short stories of Raymond Carver,
bring a vision of the West which is both vital and compelling. Bleak characters
occupy the songs, ready to break out of the prison that everyday life has
brought them. Wistful pedal steel, melodic bass, jazz-inflected drumming
and ringing electric guitar serve as the only escape for the occupants
of Richmond Fontaine's songs.
Richmond Fontaine formed
in 1994 when Willy Vlautin (guitar and vocals) met Dave Harding (bass)
at the Portland Meadows horse track. The two quickly discovered a mutual
affinity for the music of Husker Du, the Replacements, X, The Blasters,
and Willie Nelson. Naming themselves after a down and out character Vlautin
met in Mexico, Richmond Fontaine began playing the Portland club circuit.
After signing to Cavity Search
Records in 1996, Richmond Fontaine released their first record, Safety
saw the release of MiIes From. These records gained them
notable praise from music writers, who loved the band's dark lyrics and
powerful music. The band embarked on numerous Midwest and West Coast tours
where they developed a devoted fan base that craved their high-energy,
fiery live shows. They also shared the stage with such artists as Mike
Watt, Jeff Tweedy, Jonathan Richman, X, Joe Henry, Palace, and Golden Smog.
1999 brings the release of
their strongest record yet, Lost Son. Produced by Luther
Russell and recorded at Jackpot! Studios in Portland, Lost Son shows
the band at its peak, moving from plaintive folk songs to punk rock flare-ups
to sing-along choruses in the blink of an eye. With a solid lineup featuring
Vlautin, Harding, Paul Brainard on pedal steel and Sean Oldham on drums,
Richmond Fontaine is only getting better. With their sites set on U.S.
and European tours, the band is always ready to prove why their music matters.