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Novel album from kings of storytelling

Bad things tend to happen to people in Richmond Fontaine songs. From their earliest days, as their punk origins gave way to a broader strain of Americana, Willy Vlautin's lyrics have chronicled the lives and losses of characters on the margins of American society.

For Richmond Fontaine's 10th studio album, The High Country, they've taken the story/song blend to its logical extreme and delivered what they describe as a 'song-novel'.

"When we were putting together ideas for this new record I said that I'd maybe like to try this," says Willy over coffee on a recent visit to Dublin. "Naturally, at first the rest of the band thought I was crazy but as we worked on the music it all came together and slowly began to make sense."

On The High Country the collection of songs tell the story of a mechanic who falls in love with a counter girl at an auto-parts store but whose relationship is bedevilled by a malevolent third party.

"The producer on the record, John Askew, is more associated with film scores than working with bands and we felt that we needed that kind of expertise," Willy explains. "There are several styles of music there too, some songs are quite thrashy, some are more country and some quite subdued. To sing -- and effectively play -- the part of the girl we brought in a friend of ours, Deborah Kelly, from a great band called the Damnations and her contribution is crucial to the whole recording."


In addition to fronting Richmond Fontaine, Willy is also gaining increasing attention for his parallel career as a novelist.

His third book, Lean on Pete, the story of a boy who rescues a rundown racehorse, was reissued a few months back with glowing recommendations.

"The writing is what I've always wanted to do," he says. "To be invited to give a reading alongside someone like Roddy Doyle [at the Galway Arts Festival] is really amazing and the fact that there's now a movie of the first one on the way is 'pinch me' stuff."

The Motel Life, a downbeat but blackly humorous tale of two brothers on the run after a traffic accident, will be with us next year with Emile Hirsch and Stephen Dorff in the lead roles, a cameo appearance by Kris Kristofferson and even a guest appearance from Willy himself.

"It's nothing major," he laughs. "I'm just a drunk guy at the back of a bar scene."

>George Byrne

The High Country is released on Deor Records. Richmond Fontaine play the Workman's Club on November 4. Lean on Pete is in all good bookstores