Album: Richmond Fontaine – We used to think the freeway sounded like a river

If there is something that characterizes Richmond Fontaine, this alternative country band from Portland Oregon, is their ability to recreate imagery into music. Willy Vlautin – vocals and guitar – is well known for this art. Yet this album combines his skill with an additional display of pure American songwriting spells and traditional rock and roll bravado.

Songs like ‘Lonnie’ or ‘Maybe we were both born blue’ exude a 90’s feel of the likes of Seafood and a calmer approach to vocals than Bruce Springsteen. This is a picture of their version of reality. In fact, these two tracks are an ice breaker to more experimental pieces such as ‘Two alone’, which offers a constant loop of repeated verses with angry, yet controlled, lyrics veering to an explosion of guitars and followed by diminishing waves of chords – all these movements built on a rollercoaster pattern.  But the similarities to American Football and The Constantines are left out the door with ‘Nortwest’, a 30 second track that incorporates a cheeky piano as an intro to ‘You can move back here’, a perfect sample of the dark American garage sound. ‘The Boyfriends’, however, has a rather positive and more upbeat flair on the playful guitar strokes, increscendo drumrolls and wind arrangements.

Yet it is the slower, pensive and quieter songs with a strong narrative and a taste of whisky such as ‘Ruby and Lou’ or ‘The Pull’ that bring this CD up to the level it deserves. These are the warm-ups to tender country instrumental games of teasing guitar strumming and soft background harmonies evoking glimpses of isolated places and Jack Kerouac’s travelling spots. ‘Walking back to our place at 3am’ represents, literally, an atmospheric stroll full of expectations and ‘Sitting outside my dad’s old house’ recreates the ambience of winds, dust and illusory doors squeaking on empty porches. Whether one likes it real or dreamy, We used to think the freeway sounded like a river will leave everyone wanting for some more.

Words:  Liane Escorza