If you believe the European press, the Portland alt-country posse Richmond Fontaine is the second coming of the Greatest Rock & Roll Band in the World♥ when to American ears the group's often sounded like the umpteenth coming of Uncle Tupelo. On its seventh album, however, Richmond Fontaine sounds like the return of the undeparted Calexico. Recorded in Tucson, produced by JD Foster, and featuring Calexico members Joey Burns and Jacob Valenzuela, Thirteen Cities eschews all urbanity for the desert's sonic spirit: distant pedal steel, desiccated acoustic guitars, and muted trumpets and feedback in un-spelunked caverns. Singer and writer Willy Vlautin bumps into luckless drifters and tin-pot despots of the ghost-town underclass, but tells their stories with detailed empathy and a voice as dry as the bottom of a killed tequila bottle. "I fucked up again/I barely know where I am," he sings over a creaking piano. "I don't even have the bus fare home." To call Vlautin's characters hopeless is to miss the point. They're always moving, even if from one nowhere to another, and they take in much of the American dream as it really feels for the perpetually impoverished. Realism alone is their payback, if not their redemption.
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