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Getting to know the road to nowhere

This time, Willy Vlautin is in search of the perfect hidy-hole

Progress can be overrated.

In the case of Portland country boys Richmond Fontaine, it simply isn't a necessary ingredient. Oh, sure, they can gussy up their sorrowful songs with all manner of instruments, vary their tempos and put different names on their bleak landscapes, but at the heart of the beast, songwriter Willy Vlautin is still looking around and trying to answer the eternal question 'Where to now?'

On Richmond Fontaine's fourth studio release, 'Winnemuca' (El Cortez Records), Vlautin hasn't changed his bleary modus operandi one whit. While in some cases this would seem to indicate artistic stagnation, with Vlautin it's just a matter of new chapters in a long book, or more accurately, more stories about a revolving cast of tragically flawed characters.

In the past, Vlautin's songs have been about hard-luck cases trying to find a place in the world where they can put up their tired feet and possibly find one beer left in the fridge. Here, the theme is one of escape or, as Vlautin himself says, 'hiding out.'

In 'Winner's Casino,' he gets a ride to Winnemuca, Nev., a place where 'I don't need to know anyone É/Just leave me at Winner's Casino and let me disappear for a while.' In 'Santiam' and 'Out of State,' Vlautin also has his hittin'-the-road hat on, as if to say 'anywhere but here.'

On the instrumental front, the band shines brightly on a pair of evocative instrumentals, led by Paul Brainard's tangy steel guitar. Yet when considering Richmond Fontaine, it's always going to boil down to 'What's eating Willy?' The boy was just born restless.

Richmond Fontaine hold their CD release party at 9:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22, at The Blackbird, 3728 N.E. Sandy Blvd., $8.

Music tops movie

It's safe to say that the film 'The Mothman Prophecies' is a certified box office dud. However, one certainly can't fault the musical contributions of Portland's King Black Acid, which are rich, supple and filled with the sort of dark, escalating tension that the film couldn't seem to find with both hands and a road map.

'Wake Up #37' and 'Haunted' pad along with the lithesome grace of a hunting cat, with suspicions of guitar and synthesizer curling around the plaintive vocals of Dan Riddle and Sarah Mayfield. 'The One and Only' opens like a lilting dream that quickly detonates into jarring techno carnage.

Comparisons to David Bowie and Pink Floyd have been made before, and they aren't out of place here. Frankly, though, these seven songs by King Black Acid are sturdier and more up-to-date than anything Bowie or the Floyd have been able to cough up for many a moon. 'Rolling Under' is especially spine-tingling.

Portlanders who still associate King Black Acid with discordant airs of disruption should knock back a generous swig of the uneasy beauty that permeates these superior compositions.

The soundtrack album for 'The Mothman Prophecies' Ñ which also features Low, Glen Branca and Tomandandy Ñ is a worthy investment: It's the tedious Richard Gere vehicle that should have been left on the editing room floor.

King Black Acid play at 9:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22, at Berbati's Pan, 231 S.W. Ankeny St., $8.