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Post to Wire (released 2004) is Richmond Fontaines fifth studio album and the one that really turned me onto the band. Previously the Portland-based quartet were associated with dark, brooding lyrics and a much blacker feel, but Post to Wire really highlights not just the bands ability to compose across genres but the strengths of songwriter and frontman, Willy Vlautin, in creating vivid snapshots of the contemporary west.
Labelled Americana or alt-country by a music press that always feels the need to pigeonhole, the band have developed the genre, and cemented their position in it, where the likes of Uncle Tupelo or Wilco left off. By more use of the pedal steel, the band has taken more of a country direction but Vlautins stories of people living ordinary lives on the margins of society have ensured the band stay firmly on the alternative side of country. No other band could open a song with the words "You walked with a limp/And I worried about you"; the characters that feature in Richmond Fontaine songs are intriguing yet there is always something a little tragic about them.
Fans and critics alike have suggested that Vlautin writes the songs that Raymond Carver would have written had that been his medium; personally I prefer to think of Charles Bukowski but either name would do. Opening track The Longer You Wait tells the story of a couple taking a late night drive through the Nevada desert, while Williamette is the story of a teenager who doesnt understand what his mother is doing locked in the front room with a succession of strange men; when the boys brother suddenly comes back home after two years absence, he brings with him an inexhaustible supply of Dollars and the boy thinks maybe this is the start of a new life for his family.
My favourite number Montgomery Park is Richmond Fontaine at their rocking best and has proven to be a popular request at live shows, while the albums title track Post to Wire is a memorable duet with Deborah Kelly of Austin-based band The Damnations. With Vlautin and Kelly singing alternate verses the upbeat song (that has shades of Fleetwood Mac) is the story a couple whose relationship isnt really working but who dont seem to be able to make the break if everyone screws up and I know that we both do/Doesnt it make sense, me with you?
Interspersed with the songs are a series of Postcards from a character called Walter Denny to his friend Pete. Each one is a spoken word account of how Walter plods from one disaster to the next, forced to leave town when he pawned his friends parents television set and wedding ring. Narrated against a gentle soundtrack, Vlautins soft clear voice is utterly compelling and the stories make you smile in spite of Walters tragic life.
Post to Wire is a grown up album and one that is particularly accomplished. While critics have accused the band of incorporating too many styles from song to song, I feel that this isnt the case; there is a country tinge throughout the album but the songs hang together well in spite of the their differences. If anything it shows that Richmond Fontaine have plenty to offer and it is the fascinating vignettes created by Vlautin that should be the trademark rather than being confined to musical style. (Their most recent album Thirteen Cities recorded in Arizona with input from their heroes Calexico demonstrates that the band are keen to broaden their musical horizons but the whimsical tales are still there).
Who would like Post to Wire? Well, there are the obvious connections to bands like Giant Sand or Uncle Tupelo but overall, I would recommend this album to anyone who enjoys and appreciates a well-crafted pop song.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 The Longer You Wait
2 Barely Losing
3 Montgomery Park
4 (Walter's On The Lam)
6 (Postcard from California)
7 Two Broken Hearts
9 (Postcard Written With a Broken Hand)
10 Post To Wire
12 Always on the Ride
13 (Postcard Postmarked Phoenix Arizona)
14 Allison Johnson