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The Delines, Jazz Cafe review - small-town sadness with a whisky in hand | reviews, news & interviews

The Delines, Jazz Cafe review - small-town sadness with a whisky in hand

The Delines, Jazz Cafe review - small-town sadness with a whisky in hand

The Delines on tour with their second album: brilliant musicianship and songs like short-story gems

Line up, Delines: Willy Vlautin, Freddy Trujillo, Amy Boone, Cory Gray and Sean Oldham

“You stop playing for three years and you double your crowd,” jokes Amy Boone at a sold-out gig at the Jazz Café in Camden. The reason for the Delines’ hiatus isn’t much of a joke: Boone was hit by an out-of-control car when walking in a parking lot in Austin, Texas. Both her legs were broken badly, she needed nine major surgeries and a skin graft and spent those years in rehab, delaying the release of the Portland, Oregon band’s acclaimed second album, Imperial. She now walks with an elegant silver cane. And her voice is as haunting, her pacing as impeccable and seemingly effortless, as ever.

These songs, all written by Willy Vlautin for Boone, are small-town America short-story gems, redolent of rust-belt sadness, jail time, love gone wrong, dead-end jobs and the solace of late nights at a bar. They're preferably listened to with a whisky in hand. Boone’s got one in hers throughout. She tells us that she's more badly behaved now than when she was young and we cheer her on.

Vlautin (pictured below, with Boone) is not only a songwriter, singer and guitarist – he was frontman on alt-country band Richmond Fontaine for 22 years, though he says now that he always wanted to be in the background writing songs  – but the author of five successful novels, including Lean On Pete, recently made into a film and shot in Portland. He’s 52, looks much younger, and cites Steinbeck, Sam Shepard and Raymond Carver as among his influences.“I Won’t Slip Up”, the irresistible second song of the night (from Colfax, their first album), about a woman with an alcohol problem who's desperate for a bit of action, could be a piece of Carver dialogue: “It’s Friday night/ And I just can’t stay at home/And I know your shift starts at midnight/ So come on, come on/Hey Ray, could you give me a ride into town/I won’t slip up...”

delinesThe Delines describe themselves as country-soul, with a Muscle Shoals vibe. Their sound is soulful R&B, with Boone’s pitch-perfect voice providing shades of Dusty Springfield, Bobbie Gentry, Etta James and Tracy Nelson (especially Nelson's “Down so Low” from 1968). Jazz Café’s intimate space is rammed, with a lot of bald heads, beards and beer bellies mixed in with a younger crowd, many of them holding albums for signing. The best view – Boone jokes about the people in “first class” - is from the restaurant up on the balcony but of course you’re also farther away from the band. If you find yourself downstairs at the back in a sea of tall people, then standing on a bench against the wall is a good option.

This is exceptional musicianship, with Portland multi-instrumentalist Cory Gray on keyboards and trumpet providing layers of colour. From the old Richmond Fontaine line-up, as well as Vlautin, there’s Freddy Trujillo on bass and vocals and Sean Oldham, “the silver fox,” as Boone refers to him, on drums, and guest musician David Murphy on pedal steel guitar. Vlautin, she tells us, is so motivational “he can talk you into anything,” and he’s said that he wrote her a thesis explaining why she should join up with him. He writes for her voice, and she makes the songs her own.

They’re a perfect combo, though you do sometimes wish for a variation on theme and tempo. Still, many of these songs are heartbreakingly atmospheric. “He Don’t Burn For Me” from Imperial about, yes, love gone wrong, is deliciously sad. “He won’t talk about us/Gets more distant as time goes/Spend his nights out drinkin’ with his brother/It’s dawn before he gets home.” That little detail – drinking with his brother – conjures up a whole world.

By the time we reach the encores – three of them, including the wonderful “Oil Rigs at Night” from Colfax – you want them to stay forever. But Boone says she’ll miss British mushy peas and the Delines (by the way, Alexa, it’s not pronounced “Deleenes”) will be back in London in November, playing at the Union Chapel. I'll be there.

Willy Vlautin wrote Amy Boone a thesis explaining why she should join up with him


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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