The story of The Delines (so far) could almost be the plot line of one of their songs. A band gets together, records an album of slow burning hangdog songs and then, just as they’re about to record a second, the singer is terribly injured when struck by a car. End of story? Except that the story doesn’t end there. Singer Amy Boone received severe injuries in the incident and is still recovering her full mobility but, three years on, she has recovered enough to record with and tour with the band who have just ended a triumphant UK tour.
The Delines are, of course, a vehicle (sorry for that but there’s no other word really) for Willy Vlautin’s songs, replacing the much lamented Richmond Fontaine. Boone had come on board the Fontaine’s to sing her sister’s parts from their album The High Country on tour and her voice got Vlautin to thinking that she could be an excellent conduit for some songs he felt he couldn’t really carry off. It’s a thought that is now fully fledged as The Imperial is as grand a listen as one could hope for with Boone’s magnificent voice breathing life into Vlautin’s wounded souls.
Vlautin has often gravitated to the faded grandeur of motel life and The Imperial can be considered a successor to The Fitzgerald, both run down establishments where life is somewhat murky and on the edge. Whereas Richmond Fontaine’s tales were dry and dusty, the stories here are delivered in a lush style which recalls both Memphis blue eyed soul and Kurt Wagner’s languorous outings. It’s an album to be wallowed in, the songs washing over you, a torch lit procession of glossy keyboards, supple bass playing, tentative guitar licks, sweet pedal steel and warm horn arrangements. With Boone’s achingly evocative voice on top The Delines are just superb here.
And of course, there are the songs, or stories, all perfectly written miniatures capturing the lives of Vlautin’s characters. He also breathes life into them, describing sometimes mundane situations, sometimes more dire straits, life’s trials and tribulations, while offering them a degree of dignity even as their self respect or self esteem is zero. Listening to the album, you can almost believe that you know Charley or Eddie and Polly or Holly, the latter in particular the subject of a devastating portrait on Holly The Hustle which is a screenplay in itself. Two quotes from the songs might sum up the album as Boone almost whispers, “Cheer Up Charley” at the beginning, most of the subjects having little reason for cheer. And then the repeated refrain of, “The party never stops/So the pressure starts” in Eddie And Polly indicates that our heroes and heroines are doomed to repeat their mistakes, trapped in the world of The Imperial, a hotel where it does seem that you can never leave.