Seadrift is a small city on the Gulf Coast a little to the north-east of Corpus Christi. It’s mentioned in ‘All Along The Ride’ – the first song Willy Vlautin wrote for this new album from The Delines. Singer Amy Boone had been asking him for another ‘Rainy Night In Georgia’ and he’d been trying write one and then he bought this to the table. Like all the songs that would follow it’s a enthralling little vignette of blue collar life and concerns, of quiet desperation, gradual defeats, and little victories.
A couple are driving down the coast from Seadrift, though they’re not truly a couple anymore, and the singer is lamenting the loss of their former closeness, and that’s it, except the voice and the piano coming out of the darkness evoke the emptiness so tangibly. It’s out of that emptiness that The Sea Drift must have taken shape. This third album from The Delines follows its predecessors – Colfax and The Imperial – in being based primarily in a specific place and milieu. Here it’s that Gulf Coast, stretching from Texas across to Florida; literally where land finishes, except the sea and its drift are ever present.
The Delines bring a settled line-up; Amy and Willy together with bassist Freddie Trujillo and drummer Sean Oldham plus Corey Gray on keys, trumpet, and string arrangements; and as ever John Morgan Askew produces. Together they conjure a classic country soul sound, thoroughly modern yet making no compromises with modernity. The songs are often cinematic, being both profoundly visual and possessing the quality of a clip; they’ll drop into a circumstance but it’s never fully played out.
Scenarios hang in the air, though only from the voice, or the music, maybe the tone of the horns or something in the strings, can you glean just how it’s going to end. This is perfectly exemplified in ‘Little Earl’; a small man is driving a car and only gradually is it understood that this is the aftermath of a petty crime gone wrong. How wrong it’s going to get can only be surmised from the Greek chorus of “oh no, oh no”, and the final line “he keeps getting lost”. Then in ‘Kid Codeine’, as the lone guitar blossoms into classic pop sound, the intriguing character is finally not the titular Kid but the admiring invisible narrator with her forebodings; “madness is coming to me”.
‘Kid Codeine’ is singular in its liveliness, deliberately so, because no other character has anything like her self-assurance; coming closest might be the protagonist of ‘This Ain’t No Getaway’ whose resolution to be gone from an abusive relationship is signalled by her precise notations of surroundings, and the sheer business-like atmosphere of the song. She’s leaving not fleeing; ‘this ain’t no escape, this ain’t no getaway‘. Even so that sentiment may be ambiguous given the women in ‘Hold Me Slow’ and ‘Saved From The Sea’ both seem too weary, or too damaged, to fully embrace having found someone new.
An inevitability thus to Corey Gray’s two gorgeous instrumental pieces being labelled as ‘Laments’; The Sea Drift doesn’t deliver happy endings. Yet conversely it’s the most romantic and lush record from The Delines so far. Amy surely has never sung better and her range of emotion is staggering. In the economy and clarity of instrumentation echoes of Muscle Shoals are never too distant, leaving it definite The Sea Drift is truly soul music and all comparisons to the pantheon richly deserved.
The Sea Drift is available now from Decor Records