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Richmond Fontaine

You Can't Go Back If There's Nothing To Go Back To – 2016 (Fluff & Gravy)

Reviewed by Jason MacNeil

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CDs by Richmond Fontaine

There's something about a band knowing when to call it a day before their fan base, personal conflicts or extenuating circumstances make the decision for said band. After a 20-year run of critically-acclaimed but often under-appreciated albums, songs and shows, Richmond Fontaine are putting the exclamation point on their career with one final studio album. And it's everything you'd come to expect from the group: thoughtful, heart-tugging and consistent.

Following the sweet instrumental "Leaving Bev's Miners Club At Dawn," the group, led by singer Willy Vlautin, ventures down roads they carved out perfectly with the road-weary "Wake Up Ray." It's a brilliant piece of work that could have been placed on Wilco's "Summerteeth" without any cause for concern. It's the first of several small-town Americana vignettes about getting out of town and searching for something better that Richmond Fontaine shines on, with "I Got Off The Bus" a perfect example (while including the album title).

Another asset Richmond Fontaine often brought to the table was allowing each song the time it needed to flesh it out perfectly as is the case with "Whitey And Me (Don't Ride Him Down)." While bringing to mind something a countrified Paul Westerberg might dig into, the song is a lazy (in a good way) little trip back through the past, but executed brilliantly. "I Can't Black It Out If I Wake Up And Remember" recalls some fine blend of Sparklehorse and Hem, another dark tale, but with a dreamy atmosphere about it.

The album bio has Vlautin mentioning how some songs epitomize the theme of being near "the end of their run." "Don't Skip Out On Me" is one of those tracks, another poignant effort, which could have come from Golden Smog circa "Down By the Old Mainstream." Thankfully Vlautin and company move into a different mood with the toe-tapping, quasi-gallop fuelling "Two Friends Lost At Sea." The record's true highlight (among many in contention) is the sparse, gorgeous "Three Brothers Roll Into Town" resembling something from Springsteen's "Devils & Dust."

The homestretch is as precious and haunting as one might expect starting with mournful and all-too-brief "The Blind Horse" and fantastic pedal steel courtesy of Paul Brainard. It sets up "A Night In The City" quite nicely, another dour, dark portrait mentioning small town nightlife and realizing life isn't everything it might have once been cracked up to be. The closer, "Easy Run" (ironic given how their career and trajectory was anything but), is a tender, bittersweet piano-driven piece of work with the line "do you think an easy run will find me?" capping off an album that more than justifies Richmond Fontaine's work from post to wire.