The Delines – The Imperial (El Cortez Records)
Incredibly evocative, this is music that draws you in
The Imperial is the welcome return of Portland, Oregon’s The Delines. Their second studio album took a lot longer than planned, when singer Amy Boone was involved in a car accident back in 2016. She spent over a year in physical therapy, having to re-learn how to walk. Thankfully, her voice, a whiskey-soaked version of Bobby Gentry, is still intact. Guitarist Willy Vlautin has put together another ten songs that work as mini stories, based on losers, and those down on their luck, and Boone’s voice is the perfect vehicle. These tales are wrapped in a blend of gentle country-soul that’s deceptively magnetic.
The album opens with “Cheer Up Charley.” With its horns on the chorus, it comes off like a psychobilly version of the Carpenters. But, then things really settle in with “The Imperial.” Boone evokes goosebumps as she asks “all those scars / what did they do to you” while the music gently swirls behind. I found myself turning out the lights and turning up the music – it’s been a long time since I just listened.
“Let’s Be Us Again” is a poignant love song that smolders along as she sings “I can’t wait to be like I used to be.” “Roll Back My Life” crawls along at a dirge’s pace – there just aren’t too many singers that could command restraint to pull this off.
“Side two” begins with the upbeat “Eddie & Polly,” but don’t let that fool you, the story of the doomed lovers is just as harrowing. Boone gives more of a matter-of-fact delivery on “Holly the Hustle,” the tale of a girl who had to grow up too soon. The gospel-tinged “He Don’t Burn For Me” compares couples breaking up to broken down cars left alongside the road.
Like the run-down apartment building on the front cover, the music tucked inside doesn’t attempt to sugar coat things. No 5-star hotel, this is real life, where the only things free are the stains on the carpet. If you give them a chance, the Delines will mesmerize you. —Tony Peters