Album: We Used To Think The Freeway Sounded Like a River
. . .
And now the case of Willy Vlautin, who turned from cult Americana bandleader to cult novelist. I’ll freely admit that I’ve haven’t read any of his books — though if someone wanted to tell me where to start, I would — and haven’t heard all of the albums he cut as the leader of the Oregon-based Richmond Fontaine, who started releasing albums in 1996, and as of 2018, were still doing it.
Richmond Fontaine came on my radar with 2004’s Post to Wire, and my favorite of their albums was 2009’s We Used to Think The Freeway Sounded Like A River, a brilliant and evocative title for an album with quite a few brilliant and evocative songs, like “You Can Move Back Here,” “The Boyfriends” and my favorite of all “Lonnie,” which encapsulates all of Richmond Fontaine’s strengths in a single song.
“Lonnie” opens with a big, evocative guitar hook over a fuzzed-out rhythm guitar, but very soon, it drops into almost nothingness, as Vlautin quietly talks to the titular character, who is clearly strung out and fucked up and on their last legs.
I ain’t going to worry about you anymore
You can keep living that hard if you want to
But the only point you got now is dying
I saw your aunt in the store
She couldn’t keep from saying horrible things about you
But the thing is they’re all true
And then the guitars come roaring back, as Vlautin moans “Lonnie” over and over more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger, but there’s a little bit of anger, too. Or maybe I’m projecting here, because if you’ve ever dealt with an addict in the full throes of their addiction, then the lyrics here are going to be pretty fucking on point.
I’ve seen you lying on your back
Ambulance sirens heard after that
I’ve seen that place you were living
But I won’t tell anyone about it
Or the years of Western Union
If you come back I hope I remember you
But you know it’s getting hard to
It’s getting hard to
It’s both brutal and beautiful, the noise on the choruses contrasting the funereal quiet of the verses — oh, and that chorus is pretty as all hell, too, sticking in your ear: dig how the slide guitar is almost a harmony vocal, even if you have no idea who Lonnie is and what’s up with them.
Vlautin ends that second on what might even be a hopeful note, observing: “If you come back / Maybe they’ll come back too”, but the guitars make that seem like a fool’s hope at best.
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