It's an ongoing mystery to me how people can go gaga over such moribund froth as Paolo Nuntini , James Blunt, Natasha Bedingfield ,and that dorky brother of hers and so on and on and Ariston and yet.... YET gracious gorgeous music like that produced consistently by The Walkabouts goes more or less unnoticed. It's not unusual for music deserving of a far wider audience to remain the province of a select band of slavering aficionado's but the Seattle band have gone beyond that into a realm of almost perpetual nirvana , unreachable to virtually everybody even though they are always there for anyone who can be bothered to look. Over eighteen albums , dating back to 1985 the band have taken their mesmerising blend of rock , country , folk to some sumptuous plateaus. The bands sound progressed from regular rock and country to become some purveyors of almost impossible romantic balladry with gracious sting arrangements that always stayed just the right side of opulent. They are also helped considerably by having a brilliant song writer in Chris Eckman , whose lyrics dealing with alienation, doomed love and loneliness are literate and often poetic and boy can he set them to some tremendous melodies and arrangements. The real clincher is the vocals of Eckman whose voice , while never classically powerful has a marmoraceous splendour and is weighed with immense gravitas. Fellow vocalist Carla Jorgensen (most well known for duetting on The Tindersticks monumental "Travelling Light") has a natural husky ache to her voice and when the two duet it's something else. "Nighttown" released in 1997 is their tenth album and arguably their best -though I would personally plump for " Devils Road" , the one that preceded it. "Tremble Goes The Night" is one of those fore mentioned duets and is just a marvellous tremulous song ,quivering with fraught emotions and suppressed faith. A huge beating bleeding heart of a song it's matched by "Prayer For You" which has a sense of drama most TV series would impale Grannies for. Best though is "Slow Red Dawn" which has some wondrous harmonies courtesy of Torgensen and is corpulent with unrequited desire and hope. There is even an out and out rock song with "Immaculate " complete with backing keyboards that fizz and warble like prime Human League . The acoustic balled "Heartless" has a Torgensen vocal that would make a planet cease turning . The whole album is an absolute treat of exquisite song writing and vocals to cause trees to shed their leaves like jade tears. Music this resonant and emotionally impaling should be so big it needs its own postcode. Yet mention The Walkabouts to 99% of the population and most will say "Isn't it that film where Jenny Agutter got her kit off ?" The rest of us will go all misty eyed and wistful and start humming their favourite Walkabouts song lost in the reverie their music always invokes.
Seattle band The Walkabouts perfected their stylish brand of smoky, urban noir on this 1997 album. Along with the previous year's 'Devil's Road', it represents the pinnacle of their achievement.
The crepuscular creep of 'Follow Me An Angel' sets the tone, Chris Eckman and Carla Torgerson's hushed voices luring you into the city's fleshpots - "Though we ain't lookin' pretty/ There's some places open late/ Where we can go." Dramatic orchestral flourishes, a distant, wailing sax and disturbing, subliminal sound effects compound the sense of unease.
The bums, the losers, the lost and the lonely, adrift in the night: this is The Walkabouts constituency. The song's protagonists know that life is short and love is always over in the morning - "When the morning comes....the lies are cheap."
But compassion sometimes triumphs. 'Lift Your Burdens Up' offers a concilliatory hand to an errant ex-lover, but with caveats attached - "If you come back tonight/ You better have the guts to stay." The song starts magically - strings quietly fading in and Torgerson softly singing "Been a lot of rain out there/ Raining blind/ Summer's coming slow this year/ It's raining blind...." It's the sort of opening that makes one want to play a song over and over again.
'Unwind' is subtly erotic, a languid, intoxicating track vaguely reminiscent of 'No More Affairs' by Tindersticks.
'Prayer For You' is a lament for an unnamed friend lost along the way, someone who you intuit fell victim to the city's nefarious temptations.
Despite the frequently gloomy subject matter, the melancholy never overwhelms. This is because the songs are imbued with enough moments of heart and hope to maintain the spirits. However dark the night, The Walkabouts know that "Slow red dawn is gonna come."