The record I’ve played most this year, and I’ll always switch from shuffle when they show up on the iPod, is The Delines’ Colfax. A gorgeous country-soul concoction summoned up by Richmond Fontaine’s Willy Vlautin and realised by a crack selection of Portland musicians and the voice of Austin’s Amy Boone, once of The Damnations.
When they were here in the summer they were finding their way a little ; there’d been but one show in the States before their arrival in Europe, and building a set required a couple of covers and dips into individual member’s back catalogues. Nothing to complain about, the shows I saw at Rough Trade East, the Lexington, and the Hare & Hounds were all cracking, but the sign of a new band.
Six months later and they’re back, having played in the States, taken a trip to Australia and New Zealand, and worked on some new material. What was apparent from the get-go last night at the Hoxton Bar & Grill was a road-hardened band even allowing for the absence of bassist Freddie Trujillo. His stand-in is Dave Little, last spotted on the six-string with Pete Bruntnell, who they plainly like; Amy jokes warmly about next time doing “the double bass thing, like Ministry”, and certainly he’s hitting the mark from the start.
As is the band period. Kicking off with the album opener ‘Calling In’ they deliver perfect live renditions of every song from the album bar the Randy Newman cover. A performance that’s graceful, intense, but spare in the sense of no grandstanding; one’s stuck continually by the awareness that while everybody’s doing just what’s necessary the end result is sublime. I’m very close up to Cory Gray’s Korg but while I’m bewitched by his keyboards and trumpet I’m still drawn to Willy’s guitar and Sean’s percussion.
Interspersed through the set are a choice selection of new songs. ‘He Don’t Burn For Me’ and ‘I Ain’t Going Back’, both soulful and a continuation of the Colfax vibe, are going to be growers. But ‘Roll Back My Life’ is set fair to be a shimmering, atmospheric masterpiece; as the piece enters its instrumental endgame the room seems to darken, the crowd fades from view and it’s as if we’re each singly transported to another place entirely.
Amy takes to the keyboards for a couple of tunes, allowing Cory to concentrate on his trumpet. This includes the instrumental ‘Rudy’ (“about my horse” claims Willy) with its super Mariachi/Forever Changes vibe. The Record Store Day single, Colfax-outtake, ‘Sonny’, about fighting in the Walgreen’s car park and leaving, also gets another deserved rendering.
They say goodbye after ‘He Told Her The City Was Killing Him’ but you know they’ll be back. Firstly it’s Amy and a chair for a fine reading of ‘Ode To Billie Joe’ (minus the frog verse) and then everyone’s there for ‘The Golden State’. This country duet introduced in the summer is wild and witty, an alcohol-fuelled, would-be romantic, weekend in San Francisco, inevitably a crowd-pleaser and if Willy won’t have it on an album it’s got to be a single. It has a great ‘Fairytale Of New York’ vibe and they’re starting to ad-lib a bit too. Then lastly back to Colfax for ‘I Won’t Slip Up’ reminding us what bought us here and once again the sheer strength of the material. Songs that in six short months have become classics.
An interview with Willy Vlautin will appear in the next print edition of Bucketfull Of Brains (#83)