El Cortez Records
It’s an easy shot to take – and, hey, I’m all about that! – but this new album by The Delines is easily the finest record I’ve heard so far in 2019! More than that, I’m sure it’ll be on my end-of-year list as one of 2019’s greatest records. It is, from the very first listen, a revelation. It’s hard to believe that some five years have scooted by since the sublime debut album from this group. Then again, it’s not. This is timeless music after all. And much of what has now become The Imperial started to take shape back in 2016, then singer Amy Boone was sidelined – recovering from a road accident. And now, long last, we have the finalised recordings. We’re lucky to live in a world where music like this can wait – and then when it arrives it feels like it’s always been there, been circling, hovering…
Willy Vlautin is now an acclaimed novelist. He still has his other vehicle too – the band Richmond Fontaine, for which he is lead singer, guitarist and songwriter.
Sometime after his earliest successes with the novel and as Richmond Fontaine felt like it might be coming to a stand-still he created the subtlest of pivots: to write for a new voice – Boone is the star of the show here. But it’s Vlautin’s songs still. And they’re mesmeric; sublime.
It’s all at once like the worlds conjured by early Terence Malik and Martin Scorsese mingling with the words of Mailer and Bukowski and Hemingway. But where if Vlautin had sung them they might resemble Nebraska-era Springsteen (and there’s most certainly nothing wrong with that), Boone gets to place in our minds what it might have been like if Dusty Springfield had a Rick Rubin-styled late-career makeover a la Johnny Cash.
Also, it isn’t just Boone’s reading that exquisitely softens this material. There’s the weepy steel guitars and mournful horns, the sympathetic playing – but also Vlautin borrows the grit of the writers I mentioned above, but not the misogyny. There’s so much head-held-high hope and heart to his best writing. And the pairing of Vlautin and Boone is one of modern music’s great marvels – a writing and singing voice that have finally found each other; an alchemy to savour.
About a half-dozen years ago I watched Willy Vlautin reading short stories in a famous book shop in San Francisco. He strummed a song or two on the guitar and that was great too. But the stories. These short stories, again Bukowski-esque, but better! And I’ve longed for a book of those stories. In fact three further novels have arrived in that time. Some Richmond Fontaine work too.
But now, hearing The Imperial, an album that arrives in that same hard-fought, world-weary way as the homilies of Vlautin’s character so often unfold, I see I’m lucky to be holding that book of short-stories. And to be hearing it. This is a literary masterpiece. And its lead vocal performance is like a best actor award-winning performance, the band in accompaniment all worthy of best supporting player awards also.
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