not a member? click here to sign up
The High Country
Hugely ambitious, hugely rewarding epic gothic love story.
Olaf Tyaransen, 14 Sep 2011
That the tenth studio album from Portland alt. country outfit Richmond Fontaine is actually more of a novel told through song will come as little surprise to anyone who’s been following frontman Willy Vlautin’s parallel career as a prose writer. His third novel, Lean On Pete, recently won the Ken Kesey award, while his 2006 debut, The Motel Life, has just been adapted into a movie by the Polsky Brothers.
Vlautin has written stories set to music before – ‘A Jockey’s Christmas’ and ‘A Motorcycle For A Horse’ were both released as limited-edition CDs – but has never attempted anything quite as ambitious as this. A gothic love story about an affair between a mechanic and an unhappily married girl who works in an auto parts store, set against a backdrop of permanent rainfall, endless logging roads and the remains of a forest brutalised by logging, The High Country tells an operatically tragic tale of drugs, poverty, violence, infidelity, loneliness, and desperation.
Produced by John Askew (The Dodos, Karl Blau) and recorded at Type Foundry and Scenic Burrows in Portland, the band – Dan Eccles (guitar), Dave Harding (bass), Sean Oldham (percussion) and Vlautin (vocals, guitar) – are joined by Fontaine regulars Paul Brainard (pedal steel), Ralph Huntley (accordion) and Collin Oldham (cello). The Damnations’ Deborah Kelley – who previously guested on breakthrough album Post To Wire – sings lead vocals on four of the tracks.
Cinematic-sounding throughout, the songs range from stark, romantic ballads to raw north-west garage rock. While there are a few tracks that work fine as standalones (‘Lost In The Trees’), there’s always a bigger story being told. The album features fully-fleshed-out characters, changing scenes, sound effects, snippets of radio, and spoken-word passages.
It’s unlikely to be a massive commercial success, and may even disappoint fans of Post To Wire and Thirteen Cities, but The High Country is well worth a visit. A compelling musical story of light versus dark, Vlautin has created a world where fuck-ups and freaks terrorise the good and the innocent.