Almanac Music: Not Quite Bob – The Songlines: The Songs of Willy Vlautin – Richmond Fontaine and The Delines


A songwriter finds the voice for his songs and (Spoiler Alert) … it’s not his.


Once upon a very long time you hear something that makes you think “Hmmm, that’s a bit different.”  Not very often mind because a by-product of there being a lot of stuff out there is not surprises but the tedium of ‘they sound a lot like ….’ Fill in the blank space.  Which might, come to think of it, invalidate my whole NQB premise but here you go.


The song in question was ‘Little Earl’ by The Delines more on which later.  I think it wafted into my brain one Saturday morning not long ago on Vital Bits.  Which leads to “Turn it up bloss” followed by “Ergghh, you turn it up” which is a whole other story.


Anyway, The Delines.  And that song, light, jazzy, hypnotic, an instant earworm of a thing but in a good way.  Not very much research leads you to Willy Vlautin as the songwriter and key creative architect of The Delines.


The first thing on the not-very-much-research page is that he is listed as an author before musician and songwriter.  Six novels, three of which are right now in a van somewhere on their way to my place.  Oh, ‘ding’, they’re ‘In Transit’, delivery sometime between now and never.


Born in Reno, Nevada in 1967 Vlautin states (his biog suggests) that he was influenced in his songwriting by Tom Waits, Willie Nelson and … Paul Kelly and in his prose writing by Raymond Carver, William Kennedy and John Steinbeck.  Good enough for me.


His first band is an alt-country outfit called Richmond Fontaine.  14 albums which is a lot.  1994-2016.  Now based in Portland, Oregan Vlautin is Richmond Fontaine’s lead singer and plays guitar and the lineup has shifted through various members but always a quartet with the usual of bass, drums and lead guitar rounding the band out.  The songs (and the novels I’m told, c’mon Startruck or wtf they’re called) tell stories of working class life.  The influences on another thinly detailed page were Green On Red, Gram Parsons (both NQB alumni) and Dave Alvin (who will be when I get to him and his brother).


Here from 2002’s Winnemucca is ‘Northline’ which will give you a great feel for RF’s early work and is notably the title of one of the novels heading my way.  The song is about an early love called Allison Johnson and Willy has suggested in interview that he’s written about 20 songs about her so she must have made an impression.  Not the woman he married btw.





Until I auditioned these albums on Spotify Richmond Fontaine had been at the edge of my consciousness.  I was aware of them as being amongst the Wilco, Son Volt, Jayhawks alt-country/Americana putsch but for some reason I’d never heard them.  Again, too much stuff out there you know.


But once down this particular rabbit hole it’s hard to let go.  All their albums are on Bandcamp and I’ve since bought seven of them, all intriguing and packed full of really good songs.


Here from 2007’s Thirteen Cities, ‘Capsized’.





And from 2016’s You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing to Go Back To (their final album), ‘Don’t Skip Out On Me’.





The career highlight came midway through the life of Richmond Fontaine with 2003’s Post To Wire.  Don’t just listen to the 30 second grabs, play it all.  It’s well worth it.





But by the time of their last album Vlautin had already found another way to express his laments on the hard scrabble working class life and songs of love and loss and regret (his themes and those of most of the NQB subjects) by forming a band with RF members but focussed on the sublime talent and voice of Amy Boone.



The Delines were formed when singer Amy Boone was touring with Richmond Fontaine and singing the female parts from that band’s 2003 album, Post to Wire, which had been performed by her sister Deborah Kelly.


They record an album in 2014 called Colfax and from that small wonder, ‘Colfax Avenue’.





Irresistible. To me at least.  In The Delines, Vlautin has found the voice for his songs and as a bonus he presents a lot of them with beautifully art directed and simple, subtle videos.


Here is the title track from 2019’s The Imperial.





And the good thing?  Each album is better than the last.  This year they’ve released The Sea Drift, and it is terrific.  Set along the Gulf Coast in the area bordering Mexico, Louisiana and Texas here we have ‘Drowning In Plain Sight’.





So where’s Little Earl Trevor? I hear you say.  It’s here.





Again, the videos.  4 minute movies really, I’ll be damned if Willy Vlautin hasn’t got a film script on the laptop somewhere.  His novel Lean On Pete has in fact been adapted as a feature film.  Here is The Sea Drift.  Essential.  Again, play the whole thing, not the grabs.





Four weeks ago I hadn’t heard Little Earl or heard of The Delines.  I also hadn’t bothered to listen to Richmond Fontaine.  So here we are.


I’ve talked before about bucket lists as though I’m close to kicking one.  Not true I hope.  But an item on that list that doesn’t really exist might go like this.


I like Rick Stein’s foodie adventures on TV.  He seems a nice chap, personable, informative.  He did a series once where he drove an open top something or other (a ‘Stang? a Red Corvette? Certainly one of those or some other old fella fantasy) down the PCH from Portland to Mexico.  Cross that bridge at Big Sur in the ever present Cali sunshine all with the right soundtrack playing.  Some Ry Cooder, some David Lindley, John Hiatt probably.  And now, the songs of Willy Vlautin through Richmond Fontaine and The Delines.


I’d like to do that.


Details of The Delines tour can be found Here.


You can read more from Trevor Blainey HERE.



Read more stories from Almanac Music  HERE


If you would like to receive the Almanac Music and Poetry newsletter we will add you to the list. Please email us: [email protected]


To return to the  home page click HERE



Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


Do you enjoy the Almanac concept?
And want to ensure it continues in its current form, and better? To help keep things ticking over please consider making your own contribution.


Become an Almanac (annual) member – CLICK HERE

One-off financial contribution – CLICK HERE

Regular financial contribution (monthly EFT) – CLICK HERE





  1. Colin Ritchie says

    Listening to The Delines while I type. I was aware of them but had not listened, a nice feel to the music, certainly different from his earlier sounds. Another ripper!

  2. michael pullen says

    I was lucky enough to see Willy at an Adelaide Writers wee 5 or 6 years ago(?).
    A fantastic storyteller.

  3. Trevor Blainey says

    Michael, I found a 25 minute gig they did on YouTube for a radio station in Seattle and the interviewer asked him what his preference was – writer or musician. He answered writer. As i said in the piece a few of the novels are heading my way. I’m keen to read them.

  4. Trevor Blainey says

    should have looked at your link first. that was the gig.

  5. Thanks for this Trev. The Delines sound great. A new adventure. And a good read, too.

  6. Ian Wilson says

    a fantastic insight thanks Trev. Love the imagery with the music. Will definitely delve deeper Cheers

Leave a Comment