El Cortez Records
Time stands still when you listen to The Delines. It was true on their debut, 2014’s Colfax and is even more true on their newest, The Imperial. The warm, country/southern soul sound, wrapped around novelist Willy Vlautin (author of Don’t Skip out on Me and others) tales of the downtrodden is mesmerizing. The opener, “Cheer Up Charley” paints a vivid picture – “Cheer up Charley/You ain’t always been this big a mess/Sitting outside Slim’s daytime drinking”. Singer Amy Boone, formerly of the Texas band The Damnations is perfect, sounding a bit like Dusty Springfield or Kelly Hogan, and the record feels as if it was made one late night in Muscle Shoals or Memphis, with subtle horns and aching pedal steel from Tucker Jackson creating a midnight, Crown Royale sort of mood.
Vlautin’s images are sharp, his characters honest and recognizable, every one down on their luck in some fashion, resigned to what life has left them, full of regrets, bad choices, and sometimes, hope. Whether it’s Holly the Hustle from the title cut, beat up by “a man she misjudged” or the desperate “Eddie and Polly”, the people here are out of an Elmore Leonard or Denis Johnson work, so vividly drawn to the extent you’ll be glad you’re not one of them – or a shuddering sigh of acknowledgment if you are.
I’ve had this album for months, and each time I play it, I lose myself in the smoky mood, it’s compelling images of people life has cast aside, and the sheer brilliance of the The Delines at crafting such richly drawn scenarios, and creating the world of The Imperial. It’s a stunning work of art.