The Delines: The Imperial (El Cortez)

Country soul that was three years in the making, and well worth the wait

The old saw about having a lifetime to make your debut and twelve months to make the follow-up is a luxury that the Delines didn’t get to enjoy. Not because they were rushed back into the studio by a demanding record label, or suffered a lack of creative energy and desire to write and record a sophomore album. Instead, after touring their 2014 debut, Colfax, recording a summer single that organically blossomed into the extended EP, Scenic Sessions, and completing substantial work on their planned sophomore album, the band’s singer, Amy Boone (Damnations, TX) was struck by a car and sidelined by two broken legs. Now, multiple surgeries and three years after the interruption, they’ve completed an album whose deep, emotional atmosphere appears to have been infused by the collective doubt, hope, expectation and recovery that marked the waiting.

The album’s downbeat country soul bridges the 200 miles between Memphis and Nashville, with organ, horns and pedal steel each offering notes of solemnity and sadness. The spotlight, however, belongs to Boone’s intimate readings of Willy Vlautin’s extraordinary songs. Vlautin captures human moments whose revelations are often to be found deep inside a subtle emotion, thought or interaction. Boone renders these words with a quiet strength that is both introspective and outwardly aware of their profundity. Vlautin’s protagonists spin in downward spirals that might be infinite, if not for an encouraging whisper. The magnitude of emotional despair is shown in nearly imperceptible contrast with earlier times that were, if not exactly happy, less of a disaster.

Vlautin’s talent as a novelist is on display as his songs account for meter, verse, chorus and rhyme without being constrained by them. His stories unfold in both blink-of-the-eye details and jump-cut narratives. Vlautin’s world is a bleak place in which the naive abandon of “Eddie and Polly” metastasizes into addiction, destitution and disintegration, and the unrelenting bad breaks of “Holly the Hustle” beg for redemption that never comes. The plea of “Roll Back My Life” offers a flicker of perception, as does the admission of “He Don’t Burn for Me,” but in both cases, it’s unclear if recognition will lead to understanding, or if awareness will lead to action. Boone infuses the characters with quiet grit and soul, and the the band’s moody, often sparse backings drape her in atmosphere. Three years in the making, and well worth the wait. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

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