Monday, 13 February 2012

The Walkabouts - Setting The Woods On Fire

This was one of the first records I ever bought, and it fucking pisses me off that more people haven't heard it.
I've had two conversations about it total, one with the guy who recommended it to me, author John Connolly, and the other when I was very, very full of whisky in some pub one night, and almost hit the roof when discussing music with a much older guy I met through mutual acquaintances, and the topic somehow switched to this album.
I think I actually followed him around all night babbling about everything from the Gun Club to why he was a fuckin' asshole for dismissing Black Flag as 'bratty skater punk'. He was probably glad to get the fuck away from me after just 5 minutes of my wild-eyed, whisky-breathed ravings.

This is why I need an outlet like this shitty blog, because no-one ever talks to me about interesting music, and as soon as there's the slightest HINT of it in casual conversation, I latch on like a goddamned leech and don't let go until I've bled the subject dry.

So more people need to hear this album. And I'll tell you why.

The Walkabouts write songs like stories. They're not so much lyrics, they're tales to be told. The songs on this record take place in towns, they have characters, characters with relationships, motives and history only hinted at.
From the conspiratorial escape planners of opener 'Good Luck Morning', through the vengeful arsonist's warnings in 'Firetrap', to the grave-robber with the very best intentions of 'Up In The Graveyard', each song feels like a cautionary tale set to music.

And then there's that music. Stories like the ones in these songs could only be soundtracked by what sounds like the house band of the dimly-lit bar on the edge of town, where if you know whats good for ya, you'll keep your eyes on your drink and nowhere else. Guitars snarl and strain, the drums drive, the organ (YES, the organ! Ahh not enough bands have organ players...) lending a moodier tone, all topped off with the shared vocal duties of Carla Torgerson and Chris Eckman.
The word soulful gets tossed around to describe people who warble notes over every octave, desperate to show off their range, but rarely to describe singing that is just that, full of soul. And that's all I can think of to describe Torgerson's voice, the way she inhabits the words of the songs she sings. That sound fuckin' pretentious enough for ya? It's the best I can do to describe it.
From the first time I heard 'Bordertown', with it's aching string-bends and funeral party piano, her mournful voice given space by the music to shine, I was hooked. The vocals being split between her and Eckman, though, mean you're always left wanting more of each, neither vocalist ever outstaying their welcome, and giving a (literally) different voice and tone to each track. Going from 'Bordertown' to the following track 'Feeling No Pain', Eckman's deeper, grittier timbre couldn't be more different, but each voice suits it's respective song perfectly. It always feels cohesive.

Not every track gives me the same rush or chill as the one's I've mentioned, the mid-album track 'Old Crow' leaves me cold, it's just never grown on me, it's upbeat tempo and boogie piano seeming out of place. Same with 'Hole in The Mountain' a few tracks later, with more lively piano and a fucking horrible-sounding brass band parping all over the damn thing. But when only a couple of tracks marr an otherwise flawless record, I guess I can't complain. It's just, like, my opinion, man...

I really can't say enough good things about this album. At the young age I first heard it, when I was more concerned with finding the fastest, slowest, loudest, most abrasive music possible, they opened me up to restraint, loud/quiet dynamics, actual singing, and real narrative structure.
I'm still waiting to hear something that tells stories anything like this record almost a decade later.

Since I am trying to whore this album out so more people will hear it and talk to me about it, I'm going to do something I said I would never do on this thing... for fans of... urrrgh, here goes...
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (especially Murder Ballads/Let Love In era),
Neil Young (dig his one-string solos that go on too long? they have some of that in here!),
Mark Lanegan (that whisky-soaked baritone wouldn't sound out of place as a guest vocalist),
and even Murder City Devils, if you like escape-from-a-small-town attitude and spooky organ sounds.

You can look over their website at, somewhat predictably,
And you can pick up this album and more that I haven't heard yet through download-only apparently. Get a re-press done, Sub Pop or whoever...

1 comment:

  1. I fully agree with everything you say in this post. This album is a masterpiece and I have a hard time understanding why the Walkabouts went largely unnoticed by most music fans.