The Delines make it all sound so convincingly easy on their affecting and memorable debut album. This is down to the confidence and vulnerability of Amy Boone’s singing, the depth and strength of Willy Vlautin’s writing, and the understated playing of the rest of the group. Vlautin writes engaging characters into evocative settings, Boone totally captures those characters and makes us care, while the band allow them space to breathe: a sister worried sick about her post-combat veteran brother, a wife gazing at the offshore lights where her husband works as she prepares to leave their lifeless marriage, a teen girl on “I Won’t Slip Up” trying to have fun and regain the trust of others, and an older woman falling into an abusive relationship with a ne’er-do-well drifter. The Delines bring these and everyone else to life. Perhaps we connect with them appearing only half alive, but they seem as realistic as they are cinematic, struggling to escape the clutches of poverty, family, mistakes, dead-end jobs, and their own fears, across a landscape of motels, low-rent retail strips, trailer parks, second-hand cars, dive bars, and slow-moving checkout lines. An aroma of coffee, gasoline, drive-thru dining and desperation seeps from these tracks – balanced by the air-conditioned cool of this soulful neon-country music.
Whether the title Colfax references the Denver street in Kerouac’s On the Road and if it may lead you back to any of the participants’ other projects in music, literature or film, I cannot say. All I know is that this is a consistently enjoyable album. The one cover song, by Randy Newman albeit done in the style of early Tom Waits, fits right in with its crucial line “it’s a great big dirty world, if they say it ain’t they’re lyin’.” On the final track “82nd St.” the narrator has survived the dark night and is watching the sun come up, to try again, and likely fail, another day.