Since the winter release of Post to Wire
, British magazines such as Uncut
have been going ga-ga over Portland's Richmond Fontaine
, with words such as "masterpiece" and "brilliant" tossed about like tabloid exclamation points. We Midwesterners are justifiably more skeptical of their literate Americana; we know how creepy it is to watch dudes follow the Jay Farrar and Jayhawks playbook because they're too chicken to come right out and stalk them. But in the seven years since its somewhat derivative debut, Safety
, Richmond Fontaine has gradually put the torch to its influences by writing and rocking with more nerve. Singer and songwriter Willy Vlautin may croak like a barely dried-out Paul Westerberg and drop scorched-earth images like Walker Evans, but he does so with a wicked grasp of country melodies and a sense of when to get out of his band's way. Richmond Fontaine cross-cuts between slow-burn tunes of longing and loss, jittery rockers and pedal-steel-backed monologues of a drifter named Walter who finds himself at the end of the line but makes good on the last of his debts. Just when the concept flirts with off-the-shelf twang rock, the band'll screw and chop song shapes with dissonant drum-and-guitar barrages and then fade back into another well-worn, but impossible to wear out, country folk reverie.