Richmond Fontaine: You Can't Go Back If There's Nothing to Go Back To

An Americana capstone, artists present and future should aspire to reach the heights of Richmond Fontaine's You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing to Go Back To.

Richmond Fontaine

You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing to Go Back To

Label: Fluff and Gravy / Decor
US Release Date: 2016-03-18
UK Release Date: 2016-03-18

Stories. Tales told when old friends reconvene. Victories embellished with each telling; defeats disregarded or their blows lessened by time. Rare is the story that remains raw and unflinching amongst friends. Those who've followed Oregon's Richmond Fontaine over the course of the band's two-decade history know there are no diamonds to be unearthed from Willy Vlautin's vignettes of hardscrabble souls. Chronicling those on society's fringe, Vlautin presents only lumps of coal prescribed as plain truth.

Five years removed from 2011's The High Country, the band laid dormant as founding member Dave Harding relocated to Denmark while Vlautin released his fourth novel (2014's The Free) and two albums with new band the Delines. Returning for a final bow, You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing to Go Back To marks the end of the road for Richmond Fontaine.

Eking out blurred hours and blended days, the characters inhabiting You Can't Go Back are those worn down by the burden of freedom that is the American West. Frequenting strip clubs, racetracks and dive bars from Portland to Tulsa, they have no place to call their own. No more present to society at large than dust and dirt, the narrator of "I Got Off the Bus" recalls, "I woke up to see a policeman standing over me / I told him I didn't mean to run out on everything / He said he didn't care / As long as I got out of there." Walking ghosts, they too are haunted by the grit of the past as on "I Can't Black It Out If I Wake Up and Remember", a guided tour through the old neighborhood of one's upbringing where memories of the dead unfurl without provocation. Asking, "Is this all there is? / Is this what life is?", the wandering narrator of the existential "A Night in the City" comes to realize he is beyond edification, his "one night rebellion" proving fruitless without his wife for the lonely only exist amongst themselves.

For those lucky enough to find companionship -- not necessarily love -- the road to the present has endured a potholed past. Whether proffering a stand-in bird as on the absurd "Wake Up Ray" or pleading "Just don't run out on me while I'm sleeping" on the half-hearted sales job of "Don't Skip Out on Me", the lonely must stick together. Understanding such low depths, the scarred antagonist of "Whitey and Me" is given a pass, the song's narrator noting, "Never seen the reason why to kick someone / Who's so torn up inside." Passing no judgment and withholding denouement, Vlautin's dirty realism serves as poetry for the damned for the siblings of "Three Brothers Roll Into Town" who wait out their cast dies while the question of "Do you think an easy run will find me?" posed on the closing piano coda "Easy Run" is already predetermined.

Vlautin's sifted pan approach to storytelling has served him well, documenting only that which is discarded. Yet, the songs of Richmond Fontaine would only be unadorned words on paper were it not for Vlautin's current band mates Dan Eccles, Sean Oldham, Freddy Trujillo and a revolving cast of players, including Jenny Conlee-Drizos (Decemberists) and former members Harding and multi-instrumentalist Paul Brainard shading in dark corners on the calling-it-quits jam "Tapped Out in Tulsa" or throwing consequence to the wind on the staggering "Let's Hit One More Place". Serving as mood pieces, instrumentals such as "Leaving Bev's Miners Club at Dawn" and "The Blind Horse" are commonplace on Richmond Fontaine albums; while evoking spirit and sense of place, it's Brainard's sweeping pedal steel that accents Vlautin's crackling voice on "Don't Skip Out on Me" while his trumpet bolsters the rapid-fire crescendo of "Two Friends Lost at Sea". Bereft of structures that framed prior albums such as The High Country, Thirteen Cities and Post to Wire, familiar drifters and apparitions occupy bar stools at the loose ends of You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing to Go Back To.

A last musical dinner shared by like-minded friends, Richmond Fontaine has never sounded more at peace. While Vlautin's characters may never come close to grasping the brass ring of life, the band's final reading approaches perfection; an Americana capstone, artists present and future should aspire to reach the heights of You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing to Go Back To.







The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.


Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.


The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.


'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.


Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.


Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.


South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.


Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.


'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.


A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.


The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.


Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.


Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.


HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.


Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.


Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.


'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.


'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.