Richmond Fontaine

Miles From

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Spending a year on the road made a very big difference for Richmond Fontaine, judging from their second album, Miles From. While Richmond Fontaine sounded like a scrappy and slightly sloppy bunch of Uncle Tupelo wannabes on much of their debut, Safety, their second set is stronger, tighter, and reveals a far stronger musical identity of their own; bassist Dave Harding and drummer Stuart Gaston had cohered into a strong and sympathetic rhythm section, and Willy Vlautin's guitar work is significantly more dynamic and muscular than he'd sounded first time at bat. Vlautin's melodies also began to develop a more distinctive flavor, at once leaner and more precisely detailed, and the addition of Paul Brainard's pedal steel guitar honors the country undertow of these songs without getting stuck in aural clich├ęs (especially on the instrumental "Grandview"). But one thing that remained consistent through Safety and Miles From is the quality of Willy Vlautin's songwriting; suggesting the clean narrative lines and morally troubling perspective of Raymond Carver, Vlautin's tales of damaged lives and lost souls are vivid, honest, and evoke both horror and compassion in equal measures, and if his sometimes wobbly voice still resembles Jay Farrar, his lyrics make it clear his songs are his and his alone. Powerful stuff from a band who richly deserves a wider hearing than they've received.

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