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The High Country CD

4.0 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Audio CD (5 Sept. 2011)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Format: CD
  • Label: El Cortez
  • ASIN: B00566HSYE
  • Other Editions: Audio CD  |  Vinyl  |  MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 105,340 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
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Product Description

Product Description

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BBC Review

Many pop musicians have flirted successfully with literature over the years - think Leonard Cohen or Patti Smith for example - and Richmond Fontaine front man Willy Vlautin is another who is equally adept with a guitar or a pen in his hand. His debut novel, The Motel Life, is currently being adapted into a motion picture starring Stephen Dorff and Kris Kristofferson.

Vlautin's books are essentially extended versions of his work with Richmond Fontaine since the mid-1990s. Snapshots of the chaotic lives of a motley crew of drifters, alcoholics, gamblers and other ne'er do wells scraping an existence across rural America, the Oregon native's oeuvre will be familiar to anyone who has a passing acquaintance with Charles Bukowski or Raymond Carver. The High Country sees him revisiting the song-novel approach that worked so well on 2004's Post to Wire, a record that remains the group's crowning achievement.

After a couple of disappointing, disjointed albums in recent years, The High Country feels like a definite return to form. Set in a remote logging community, the songs here tell the tale of two young lovers seeking to escape the claustrophobic small town world they inhabit. Sparse and cinematic, with snippets of radio and spoken word passages, this is Richmond Fontaine at their most austere and vulnerable, with only a couple of songs - Lost in the Trees, The Escape - turning up the amps to mirror the urgency of the narrative.

In general, the central story is effectively drawn, with an early trilogy of songs in particular - Let Me Dream of the High Country, The Mechanic Falls in Love With the Girl and The Mechanic's Life - giving us a real insight into the lives and feelings of the two main characters. Singer Deborah Kelly provides a welcome female contrast to Vlautin's throaty drawl, and the fragile acoustic guitars, occasional slide guitar and violin deliver just the right sonic backdrop.

If there's one criticism to be directed at The High Country, it's that it lacks a couple of killer tunes, like Post to Wire's Always on the Ride and Alison Johnson, to lift it up a level from consistently good to outstanding. But it's still a slice of superior Americana that enhances Richmond Fontaine's standing as one of the genre's premier attractions.

--Chris White

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Customer Reviews

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At times I am reminded that this is Richmond Fontaine's Quadrophenia.

I'm not certain how this will go down with anyone that hasn't already explored Richmond Fontaine's work, because this is the story based theme taken to yet another level that is going to polarise opinions. I guess if you 'get it' it's going to eventually become a monumental moment in the catalogue, but it's going to take time and understanding otherwise. This isn't going to work as a disposable download, because it's no instant fix, so for some it will inevitably get passed by because it seems at first glance to be too much like hard work, which would be a tragic shame.

I can see this becoming one of my favourite RF albums in exactly the way that We Used To Think The Highway... started off as being a bit of a shock, but ended up being a highlight. I still massively miss Paul Brainard's pedal steel in anything less than the forefront, but the orchestral effect and harmonies that work with just a couple of guitars, harmony vocals and Dave's bass is at new heights of beauty and melancholy. Instrumentally, these guys have grown to be as good as any band can get. Dave especially is inspired on this one and plays some parts that make it soar.

And it's now on vinyl too, which is where it should have been all along.

Did I say Quadrophenia? Maybe that should be more Paris, Texas. It's tragic and painful, and it takes time. This is the antidote to reality TV musak. This is music going back to being art, but it's a tough one.
This is Willy Vlautin's Love Supreme.

ps. If you love the sound of a Fender Telecaster through a Fender amp on clean just going into crunch mode, when the ice pick is out but only just scratching at your ears and sending that shiver down your neck, then Chainsaw Sea will make you cry with joy.
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As other reviewers have noted the initial challenge for listeners of "The High Country" is one of identity. Opening with a passage of narrative setting the scene for the story that runs through the album over very minimal (but lovely) backing music is not a typical start to an album, even one from a band fronted by an excellent and acclaimed novelist. From the outset "The High Country" could be mistaken for an audio book with a backing track. Whilst there is much more music than narrative in the rest of the album i'm worried that listeners might not get beyond the first few minutes.

I've observed previously that reading one of Vlautin's books is very much like listening to a Richmond Fontaine album in that the mood it conjures is the same. Similarly, listening to this Richmond Fontaine album is very much like reading a Vlautin novel. I suppose the question then is, should books be books and albums albums ? I'm certainly not going to criticise Vlautin and co for this experiment because it is only by such brave efforts that genres shift and art moves on. And I don't mean to imply that this is a disaster in any sense. There are some fine tunes here and the usual Richmond Fontaine (and Vlautin) mood is ever present - a world inhabited by an all-too-real underclass for which nothing seems to go well, for whom bad things are the norm and good things rare. It could be overwhelmingly depressing but, like any genre of art; if it is done well there is pleasure to be had from the accomplishment if not from the stories it tells.

Old fans of Richmond Fontaine putting aside concerns regarding the nature of this project will find plenty to enjoy and tunes such as The Chainsaw Sea are as good as any of the rockier moments in the bands repertoire.
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Willy Vlautin is now a very successful novelist, having produced three very well received books, published in the UK by no less a publisher than Faber & Faber. Each in its own way focuses on America's lost and dispossessed, people on the fringes of society whose sense of belonging is tenuous at best. In a sense, Vlautin the novelist is an extension of Vlautin the songwriter, but with his band Richmond Fontaine's latest offering, the boundaries between the two art forms have become overly blurred and confused, and Richmond Fontaine have attempted more than on any previous occasion to write a novel in song.

While this might not be an entirely original idea, it is a far from easy one to pull off, and at its worst and most dissonant moments, The High Country tests the patience of its listeners a little too far. The fainthearted may baulk at liberal deployment of the F-word, right from the start of the album, and then scattered throughout, both in song and in a number of spoken voice pieces set to music. No 'parental advisory' stickers here though, as this is fare unlikely to trouble the teen market. The High Country is an album with high ambitions, but it is songwriting that lifts pretensions of this kind out of the run-of-the-mill into something special, and sadly those songwriting skills have been sublimated by the overall sweep of Willy Vlautin's ambition. Some of the material is cacophanous in the extreme, most of it downbeat, and a lot of it merely impressionistic. Deborah Kelly's sweet vocals relieve some of the monotony of Vlautin's gruff drawl, but it is not enough.

Richmond Fontaine are in danger of becoming a one-trick pony. There are only so many twists in the tales of the dispossessed underbelly of America that can be deployed before the band becomes a parody of itself.
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