Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Richmond Fontaine

  • Winnemucca [El Cortez, 2002] A-
  • We Used to Think the Freeway Sounded Like a River [El Cortez, 2009] **

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Winnemucca [El Cortez, 2002]
I know "saddest album ever made" isn't much of a sell line, especially from a judge who may never fully penetrate the rest of the forlorn catalogue of Willy Vlautin's signature band. But I guarantee that this one's so well put together it'll lure you to play it over and over. Pretty impressive how tentative hopes like "At least for a while we are out of state/Out of that state" and "And if it's somewhere, somewhere near/Well at least it's not here" are dragged down by vocals that fend off depression line by line, how the instrumental "Patty's Retreat" disintegrates into a chaos guaranteed to drive Americana sentimentalists back into their history-at-a-distance. And "Five Degrees Below Zero," when Ray Thaves stops the bus in the middle of the desert night and walks in the opposite direction from the Vegas lights without even a coat on, is a suicide you can get with. A-

We Used to Think the Freeway Sounded Like a River [El Cortez, 2009]
More three-dimensional in his novels, Willy Vlautin's not-yet-down-and-outers are uncommonly humane in his murmured songs ("The Boyfriends," "A Letter to the Patron Saint of Nurses"). **

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