[AMERICANA] I spent all day reading Willy Vlautin's new novel, The Motel Life, and listening to his band Richmond Fontaine's latest release, Thirteen Cities, which locates a middle ground between the panoramic country-rock of 2003's Post to Wire and the hushed acoustic textures of 2005's The Fitzgerald. Both are experiences in storytelling, which led me to pen a Vlautin-inspired story—er, review, of my own. Like punk's DIY ethos that taught kids that anyone can play an instrument, Vlautin makes you feel that everyone has stories that deserve to be heard. And he knows how much music can mean to those stories, too.

We met her at a truck stop an hour south of Portland. She asked my cousin to buy her some beer, and it was damn sweet how tough she tried to be. She had some of that sticky weed they have up there, and we shared a joint behind a dumpster. I don't remember who asked if she could come along, her or Jake. I don't think it was me, but I'd started wishing she would.

She played us a CD of some band from Portland. She talked really softly, but I think she said the guy's name was Richard Fontaine. His voice didn't get me at first, but the band sounded good and there were some cool-sounding trumpets. As the highway slipped by, we kept listening, and I started hearing what he was singing about—sad people moving, working, drinking, loving and getting left behind. It was like one long song, with weird words that didn't really rhyme like I thought songs were supposed to: "I fell into painting houses in Phoenix/ I'd been there a week, and we picked up an illegal on the street/ The kid was 19 years old, had a wife and kid in Laredo, Mexico." Eventually I started wondering if I could write a song, too, just say some of this stuff I'm always thinking, not worry about it rhyming exactly right.

One song came on, about two guys travelling, and when it got to a part about some guys picking up a girl, she reached for the stereo, like she wanted to skip past it. But she decided to let it play. It was intense, about a 16-year-old girl whom this one guy slept with and then the other guy turned him in for it. I saw why it would make her nervous to hear that in the car with strangers, but I watched her face in the rearview mirror and she nodded once when the guy in the song called the cops. I felt proud of the guy in the song for doing that, and then I realized I felt proud of that Richard guy for writing it, too.

Thirteen Cities

comes out Tuesday, May 22.