favorite band & artist 2000-2009: richmond fontaine & willy vlautin
I’m not qualified to say someone’s the best, but I always think of Richmond Fontaine and Willy Vlautin when I think of my favorite music and writing over the last 10 years. Portland, OR band Richmond Fontaine and its members released at least a dozen recorded projects and appeared on several others while frequently touring the Pacific Northwest and abroad during the decade. They developed a respectable regional following as well as in Europe because of their great music and hard work. (www.richmondfontaine.com)
While writing, singing and playing guitar on songs for the records described below, Willy Vlautin also released two highly acclaimed novels and other short stories and projects. Novels the Motel Life (’06) and Northline (’08) were published in over 10 countries. Willy’s writing has been compared to Steinbeck, Bukowski, Carver, etc. while making several international top 10 lists. Motel Life was one of a few fiction works to make the Washington Post Media Mix’s Top 25 ’07 Books. Guillermo Arriaga (21 Grams, Babel) bought the screen rights to the Motel Life and a Northline film is also in the works. Much like his songs, I usually find myself thinking of his literary characters as my friends. Vlautin’s third novel, Lean on Pete, comes out in 2010. (www.willyvlautin.com)
The mighty Richmond Fontaine enter something like their 14th year as a band in 2010 and have played over 8 billion shows. I was actually introduced to the band while reading a review of their debut record, Safety, in an early edition of No Depression Magazine. A complete discography is on the band’s web site but I know they had a bunch of amazing music released around or during 2000-2009. I could be off a bit on dates or a couple of facts:
Whiskey, Painkillers & Speed – ’01 release orchestrated by their friend in Boulder is high-quality-sounding-live and rare cuts like an anthem-isk version of Contrails and one of my favorite covers by them of Buck Owens’ Made In Japan. Lighter fluid.
Winnemucca – came out in ’02 and I remember hearing Winner’s Casino on the radio and seeing them open for Alejandro in Portland. I still have this vision in my head of Willy on a Greyhound from Portland to Winnemucca and all these people in these songs on the bus too. Northline, Twyla and my favorite RF song ever, 5 Degrees Below 0, are on this record. Paul Brainard’s pedal steel playing on this is more than stunning. Perhaps the best live show-opening song of all time is the song Northline with that haunting Willy and Paul beginning.
Post To Wire – ’03 release, their most easy to listen to record to date and 1st in a long still-going line of new albums produced by the one and only JD Foster. It seems like they really grew their following in Europe during P2W touring. There’s video all over youtube. The title track duet (Damnations) is so cool and Willamette is the best rock song ever about Portland. They were named Artist of the Year by AmericanaUK around this time and I’m sure all bought new Camaros with the royalties that designation generated.
The Fitzgerald – recorded around Post To Wire time, but an ’05 release. This one is a slow burn, but as soon as you see these songs performed live, you are hooked. Willy is a storyteller and Making It Back is simply
Obliteration By Time – ’05. They went back and recorded some of the best tracks from their 1st three releases (Safety ’96, Miles From ’97, Lost Son ’99 — all worth owning) with their new lead guitarist, Dan Eccles. This is just an awesome collection with Give Me Time, Trembling Leaves and Novocaine among the 17 all-time Fontaine classics. F yeah.
Live At The Doug Fir – ’06 live record mostly of Post To Wire and The Fitzgerald material. High-quality live versions that sound great. Their shows with friends and often tourmates, Grand Champeen, were always particularly loud and superenjoyable.
13 Cities – came out in ’07 and was recorded outside of Portland at Wavelab in Tucson. We were there shooting video during some of these sessions and it remains my favorite RF record.
Video for Ghost I Became here (www.youtube.com/watch?v=JCKdBTNerAk). Westward Ho and Four Walls are favorite standout tracks. I drove through Reno last month and saw many hotels from Westward Ho and The Motel Life.
$87 & A Guilty Conscious – leftovers, etc. I guess from 13 Cities in ’07. The Gits is a great song and it’s about the tragic murder of this singer named Mia Zapata (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mia_Zapata). It also came out on Wavelab’s Hurricane Katrina benefit compilation. The Water Wars song on $87 is an instant hummalong.
A few side projects during this time. RF bass player, Dave Harding released Across The Road in ’07. Harding is raw rock-n-roll at its best and the title track duet with Willy Vlautin is right up there with my favorite Fontaine songs. Dave’s Treefort reminds me of the Meat Puppets. Willy released a soundtrack to go with his Northline novel and a Christmas project in ’08. Both featured Paul Brainard on pedal steel and other instruments. A Jockey’s Christmas is an inspiring down and out short holiday story set to music. I highly recommend it. Another favorite cover from RF of Dylan’s From A Buick 6 came out some where in there on an Uncut Mag compilation (www.uncut.co.uk/news/richmond_fontaine/news/13154). There were probably others.
Richmond Fontaine’s latest record, We Used To Think The Freeway Sounded Like A River, came out in ’09. I think The New Yorker actually called it a tour de force. Video for You Can Move Back Here (www.youtube.com/watch?v=o36gt8t2Mxw). It was my favorite ’09 release and Too Alone kicks my ass every time. I believe they played shows recently with John Doe, M Ward, Two Cow Garage, Dolorean, Peter Bruntnell and many others. Check out the new live videos on youtube of them by “they shoot music.”