A FULL 10 years after our paths first crossed at the Kilkenny Rhythm and Roots festival and Willy Vlautin has gradually worked himself onto the distant edges of public recognition.
Back then it was just Willy and guitarist Dan Eccles, under the Richmond Fontaine banner, but since then we've had full band shows on many occasions while the band's albums, and Willy's songwriting, got better and better.
Oddly enough, these days Willy receives arguably more attention for his fiction than his songs, with four great and acclaimed novels published – the latest being The Free – while the movie adaptation of his first book, The Motel Life, was released in the UK last month.
Anyone familiar with the books knows that Willy is a male writer with that rare knack of portraying strong, well-rounded if occasionally vulnerable female characters, which is why his latest project, The Delines, doesn't come as a surprise.
Having worked with Damnations' singer Amy Boone two years ago the idea came to write a collection of songs to be sung by her, and the resulting record Colfax is probably the album of the year so far. Boone's voice has a bruised but ballsy quality, perfect for the Delines' country-soul musical settings and the colourful palette of Willy's songs.
The cinematic quality of a woman searching for her troubled war vet brother on Colfax Avenue, contemplating leaving an errant husband on The Oil Rigs At Night or trying to convince herself that she won't revert to self-destructive habits in I Won't Slip Up are undeniable, with only a strange cover of Randy Newman's Sandman's Coming unbalancing a near-perfect 11-song collection.
It's odd that Willy Vlautin's best set of songs should be sung by someone else but, somehow, I get the impression he's not that bothered at all, especially given that Colfax marks a career-best achievement.
> George Byrne
Colfax is out now on Décor Records and the Delines tour Ireland between June 2 and 7, playing Whelan's on Wednesday, June 4.