The Imperial, the sophomore album from Portland, Oregon’s The Delines, is an irresistible slice of heartfelt country-soul. The vivid, scuffed but surviving songs by Willy Vlautin (of defunct cult alt-country storytelling weirdos Richmond Fontaine) have the intimate allure of candlelit confessionals and are worthy of short fiction.
Singer Amy Boone is the undisputed star of this show. The swaying, string-laced countrypolitan title track best shows off her expressive, vulnerable voice—equal parts wounded and quietly defiant. On the trumpet laced “Let’s Be Us Again,” she sounds like a heartsick torch song singer at a classy neighborhood dive. She yearns for a second chance on the spacious “Roll Back My Life,” sharing the glow of a noir streetlight with the track’s inching piano and faintest whispers of pedal steel.
The Delines conjure the spirits of smoky jazz vocalists, tear-in-your-beer country crooners, and soul singers tastefully pouring their hearts out. It also evokes the lived-in warmth and commiseration found in the places where those types of music are played. The Imperial sounds as if it has a sighing patina spread over an underlying sparkle. This is music for anyone who feels like their heart is still beating, but unhelpfully trapped under several layers of accumulated heartache, bad breaks, and world-weariness. It may not make you feel less dissatisfied, but it will make you feel less alone. In a wired world where connections are frequent and instant but often alienating, that’s an intensely valuable quality. | Mike Rengel