‘I can’t wait to be like I used to be, Oh let’s be us again’ Amy Boone sings on the closing encore this evening. Written from a different context on the song Let’s Be Us Again from The Delines recently released album The Imperial, the lyrics also sum up the torturous road Boone has travelled in recent years and – against all the odds – her remarkable recovery.
Willy Vlautin has become a household name as an accomplished novelist of late, with his tales of the marginalised and real-life characters down on their luck, trying to survive, often with little hope. Amy Boone, the frontperson in The Delines, could be a character plucked from a Vlautin novel, given her extraordinary past four years. Originally a member of The Damnations, where she played piano, bass, wurlitzer together with lead vocals, Vlautin was so impressed by her vocals that he invited her to accompany Richmond Fontaine on tour promoting their 2011 album The High Country.
In the process of disbanding Richmond Fontaine, Vlautin was convinced that Boone’s emotive vocals were the ideal vehicle to continue bringing his stories to life, and duly formed The Delines, also bringing long-time RF drummer Sean Oldham along for the ride. Their debut album Colfax was released in 2014, a departure from RF’s core sound, it ventured more in the direction of country soul and was particularly well received by the music press. A European tour followed together with the release of a limited addition CD Scenic Sessions, only available for purchase at their gigs at that time. The band began working on their next album in 2016 but were abruptly halted when Boone was involved in an horrific accident, when struck by a car while walking in a car park, resulting in two severely fractured legs and leaving her in an incapacitated state for over two years. The completion of the album was put on hold while she dealt with multiple procedures, in an effort to restore her mobility. In the final stages of her recovery the finishing touches to the album, The Imperial, were completed and a tour of Ireland and the U.K. was arranged on the album’s release.
Liberty Hall in Dublin was the fourth show of the tour and was, to say the least, a resounding success. Despite Boone’s traumatic past few years which has resulted in mobility difficulties, her performance was outstanding, displaying a confidence in both her vocals and stage presence so far removed from her previous appearance in Dublin, where by her own admission, she was as nervous as a kitten on stage! The completion of the album and the subsequent positive reaction from audiences on the tour appears to have liberated and energised Boone and her vocal performance from the opener and album title track The Imperial, to the final encore and appropriately named Let’s Be Us Again, are simply breath-taking.
Inevitable – and in many ways unfair – comparisons are made between Richmond Fontaine and The Delines. In reality they could hardly be further apart, the only common denominator being Vlautin’s prodigious writing. Boone’s vocal capability this evening recalls the classic chanteuse Dusty Springfield and indeed Bobby Gentry. Big statement perhaps, but her delivery of the aforementioned The Imperial, Oil Rigs At Night and He Don’t Burn For Me, to name check only three songs, are simply gorgeous. Credit also to the sound engineer, with each instrument and vocal crystal clear throughout the set, whether it be Boone’s vocals, Freddie Trujillo’s bass, Vlautin’s guitar, Sean Oldham’s drums and in particular, Cory Gray on keyboards and trumpet. The added bonus for the show was the addition of our own David Murphy, guesting on pedal steel, as he often does when Willy Vlautin is in town.
Colfax may have been a hard act to follow but their presentations of That Old Haunted Place, Cheer Up Charley, Holly The Hustle and Where Are You Sonny reinforce just how worthy a successor the current album is. Straying somewhat more deeply into country soul, its raises the band to altogether loftier heights than previously, not only in their delivery but also the quality of the song writing. Favourites from Colfax are also included, I Won’t Slip Up, The Oil Rigs At Night and the title track, together with Gold Dreaming from Scenic Sessions.
The Delines were, understandably, considered to be Willy Vlautin’s band and it’s noticeable and commendable how he – and the other band members - have deliberately taken a background role as simply band members, allowing and encouraging Boone to take centre stage and Vlautin’s satisfaction is all too obvious during the performance, a beaming smile across his face at the audiences reaction from the onset. Vlautin’s writing and characters seldom have happy endings. Fortunately, Amy Boone’s horror tale is in many ways the reverse. It’s a triumph in the wake of extreme misfortune and it was a pleasure to join her and the band in a celebration of that this evening. It’s not often you leave a show with memories that linger for days and leave you yearning for more. Fortunately, The Delines return for two more dates at Kilkenny Roots in May. I’m reminded of the beaming grin across Vlautin’s face at the end of the show and expect most punters attending the show left with a similar expression.
Review by Declan Culliton Photographs by Kaethe Burt O'Dea