We Used To Think The Freeway Sounded Like A River

I don’t care who you are, come up with an album title like that and you get a free pass.

But then, we were always well disposed to Richmond Fontaine around these parts, and not just because mainman Willy Vlautin is a damn fine novelist as well as exemplary songwriter and bandleader. It’s the way RF scuff that melancholic diners-bars-and-gas-station sound, playing roots rock with the guts of The Replacements or The Feelies or some such Amerindie act. It’s a sensibility thing, Vlautin sketching entire lives on a beermat, intoning in your ear like a low-key but compelling Bud buddy (‘Ruby And Lou’, ‘The Boyfriends’). Even when he rocks out he sounds like he’s about to come apart (‘Lonnie’).

Freeway is a thematic work, subtitled “14 songs written around and about the Pacific Northwest.” As you’d imagine, the narratives are crucial, but the delivery just as much. More alt. than country, songs like ‘You Can Move Back Here’ sound like the Eels at their roughest, while ‘Maybe We Were Both Born Blue’ has the hangdog grandeur of prime Camper Van Beethoven. My favourite, ‘43’, is a borderline psychobilly number about a middle-aged guy living in his mother’s basement about to go postal, Nebraska as interpreted by the Meat Puppets. Here, and on ‘Two Alone’, the Fontaine evoke the nightmare alleys of Green On Red circa The Killer Inside Me (and I don’t say that lightly).

But they give good mood too, on a handful of pedal steely Nashville skyline pieces, plus a downbeat talking blues beauty called ‘A Letter To The Patron Saint Of Nurses’.

Impeccably produced by JD Foster, Freeway is the album Gus Van Sant would make if he could play guitar.


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