On the very first listen to “Wake Up Ray,” the opening single off Richmond Fontaine’s tenth studio album You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To, it immediately feels familiar. Portland’s alt-country stalwarts have been putting out music for twenty years, and on this latest release, you’ll find the same classic, hard-luck storytelling they’ve been pushing all along.
The title of the record is itself so telling and ominous you can’t help but feel heartbroken. Fronted by songwriter, vocalist and novelist Willy Vlautin, there’s a wealth of classic Richmond Fontaine moves on this record. Listening to RF is like a wide-open stretch of highway. You have nothing but time alone, dragging your hand out the window, contemplating the life you’ve led, the things you’ve messed up, the beer you’re going to have at the next roadside pit stop bar.
The remarkably honest stories Vlautin weaves of strong but broken characters are set to sparse guitars and a front-stoop beat. “Tapped Out In Tulsa” is a cornfield of twangy depression, while “Don’t Skip Out On Me” pleads stoically, “I know you think I’m just a liability,” for a second chance against abandonment in the worst of times.
Once again pairing with collaborator and producer John Morgan Askew – who’s worked with other indie names like Laura Veirs, Neko Case, and Ramona Falls to name a few – the band has developed an album that feels both organic and skillful. Their expertly-restrained instrumentation is the perfect backdrop for the deep-rooted, downtrodden lyrical vignettes. These are songs about middle-age, about questioning where you’ve been and what you’re left with. And at the close of the record, the piano-tinkling of “Easy Run” will leave you with a perfectly cinematic sadness and hope.
(Set for release on March 4th, you can pre-order You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To here. You can also watch a preview video for the LP below.)