Seminal alt-country combo Richmond Fontaine check in to Clwb Ifor Bach for the final time on Sunday, as the band’s European leg of its Farewell Tour stops off in the capital city. Although it’s been over six months since Willy Vlautin announced the group’s amicable split after a career spanning more than twenty years and a dozen albums, including classics Post to Wire (2004), We Thought the Freeway Sounded like a River (2009) and You Can’t Go Back if There’s Nothing to Go Back To (2016), it still seems hard to credit the fact that RF have made their final record. With the band polling fans for the songs they would like played at the goodbye gigs, we should be in for a truly memorable evening in the company of a fine band. There might well be a tear or two shed as the country-rock stalwarts depart these shores for the last time.

Here are the songs that I requested –

1. Post to Wire (2004)

A heartsick duet that boasts a fine star-turn from guest vocalist Deborah Kelly. Unsurprising, perhaps, that an author who’s penned some of his classic novels in a backroom at Portland Meadows’ racecourse should borrow trackside slang to suggest a struggling couple stick it out from ‘Post to Wire’, but the unexpected imagery works well. The jaunty tempo and catchy chorus can’t quite mask the raw despair at the song’s root, as Vlautin confesses in a resigned drawl, ‘I know you’re worn out, but I’m worn out too’. Weighing in at a little over two minutes, “Post to Wire” is an unsparing snapshot of love on the rocks. Richmond Fontaine would never sound this “radio-friendly” again

2. The Boyfriends (2009)

When I stumbled upon Richmond Fontaine at RCT’s ill-fated Alt-Country Festival in Pontypridd and Porthcawl (no, dear reader I am not making this up), the band was touring We Used to Think the Freeway Sounded like a River and “The Boyfriends” was the song that stopped me dead in my tracks. I could pinpoint the exact moment I fell in love with the band to the line where an anguished Vlautin began to holler ‘Please, I ain’t like that, I ain’t gonna be like that’. On the record itself, Paul Brainard’s melancholy mariachi trumpet sketches in the sad spaces between Vlautin’s sorrowful childhood recollections and seals the deal for all time.

3. A Night in the City (2016)

Not too many bands turn in the best record of their career more than two decades down the line, but You Can’t Go Back if There’s Nothing to Go Back To is a masterclass in Americana. There are six or seven tracks, here, that would easily make a future Best Of, but A Night in the City is a somewhat atypical RF track in which Vlautin croons his lonesome way through a mid-life crisis and it pays off in spectacular style. Writing material for his country-soul combo The Delines, and specifically for the band’s singer Amy Boone, has re-invigorated Vlautin’s songwriting.”A Night in the City” is poignant proof of that.

4. Always on the Ride (2004)

A companion piece to the aforementioned “Post to Wire”, in that its despairing tale is also buried away beneath a toe-tapping tune. There’s no disguising the bleakness of the final verse, though –

‘I heard about Ray, he’s in Fairview now / He lost his leg in a wreck / Harlin’s in Jail in Rawlins Wyoming / Doing three years for breaking and entering / Junior’s in California, he’s living with his brother in an abandoned house’

5. I Fell Into Painting Houses in Phoenix, Arizona (2007)

In addition to fronting Richmond Fontaine and The Delines, Willy Vlautin has also written four uncompromising and critically acclaimed novels; The Motel Life (2007), Northline (2008), Lean On Pete (2010) and The Free (2014), each of which examines the long-drawn-out death of the American Dream in unflinching detail. This is a song that could be filed neatly alongside those harrowing stories. The fact that Vlautin was himself a housepainter, suggests that the song is at least partially autobiographical.

The next best

“Barely Losing” (2004) – An unwittingly tragic tale; the gambler is having a grand old time at the racetrack, not because he is winning big but because he is ‘barely losing’.

“I Got Off the Bus” (2016) – Possibly picking up the tale of Ray Thaves, who ‘got off the bus’ in the song “Five Degrees Below Zero” way back in 2002, wandering off into the desert, Harry Dean Stanton style!

“Two Broken Hearts” (2004) The best broken-hearted ballad in the band’s repertoire, bar none!

“Winner’s Casino” (2002) The opening track of Winnemucca finds Vlautin fragile and forlorn -‘All I ask is for a little money and some time / and maybe if I come back I’ll be sane for a while’.

“Hope and Despair” (1999) Pummeling garage rock, from the days before Vlautin had unearthed his voice from the rubble of post-punk.

Article originally published at Source by Kevin McGrath