Portland, OR-based alt-country band Richmond Fontaine released You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing to Go Back To, their tenth full-length album, on Fluff & Gravy Records earlier this month. Though the band lost one of its founding members to a move to Denmark with his family, the rest of the troupe was determined to carry on and produce another record. Shortly before the album’s release, the band announced You Can’t… would be their final record. By way of explanation, songwriter Willy Vlautin noted, “I wrote [the album] to give an end piece for all the characters who inhabited the world of Richmond Fontaine over the years,” and drummer Sean Oldham added that the band had “made a pact that The High Country would not be [its] last record.”
As Vlautin describes it, You Cant… is “a record about paying the price for the way one’s lived.” From the songs’ titles (e.g., “Leaving Bev’s Miners Club” and “Tapped Out in Tulsa”) to their lyrics to the music itself, You Can’t… is fixated upon difficult endings and exits. “Wake Up Ray” recounts the dissolution of a relationship with the narrator bidding “Ray” to leave with him because the “town’s got nothing.” “Don’t Skip Out on Me” finds its own narrator begging his partner to do just that.
Narrative songs like “Wake Up Ray” and “Don’t Skip Out on Me” dominate You Can’t…. Each one reveals a wealth of detail about its characters, creating haunting portraits of lives gone wrong. Vlautin is a skilled wordsmith, and it is no surprise that he has published four books in the last decade, winning two Oregon Book Awards.
You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing to Go Back To puts an impressive seal on the band’s oeuvre. Rchmond Fontaine is a band that has never shied away from looking at the underbelly of life in the West, and with the album’s stories and its thematic focus on departure, the record is an appropriate (and excellent) goodbye from the band.