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WALKABOUTS (Buy CDs by this artist)
The Walkabouts EP [tape] (Necessity) 1984
22 Disasters EP (Necessity) 1985
See Beautiful Rattlesnake Gardens (PopLlama Products) 1988
Cataract (Sub Pop) 1989
Rag & Bone EP (Sub Pop) 1990
Where the Deep Water Goes EP (Sub Pop) 1991
Scavenger (Sub Pop) 1991
Dead Man Rise EP (Sub Pop) 1992
Your Hope Shines EP (Ger. Sub Pop) 1993 (Creative Man/Cargo) 1995
Jack Candy EP (Ger. Sub Pop) 1993
New West Motel (Ger. Sub Pop) 1993 (Creative Man/Cargo) 1995
Satisfied Mind (Ger. Sub Pop) 1994 (Creative Man/Cargo) 1995
Setting the Woods on Fire (Ger. Sub Pop) 1994 (Creative Man/Cargo) 1995
Good Luck Morning EP (Ger. Sub Pop) 1994
To Hell and Back: Live in Europe 1994 (Ger. Glitterhouse) 1995
Death Valley Days: Lost Songs and Rarities, 1985 to 1995 (Ger. Glitterhouse) 1996
Devil's Road (Ger. Virgin) 1996
Nighttown (Ger. Virgin) 1997
Trail of Stars (Ger. Glitterhouse) 1999
Train Leaves at Eight (Innerstate) 2000
Ended Up a Stranger (Ger. Glitterhouse) 2001
Shelter for an Evening (Ger. Sub Pop) 1993
Life Full of Holes (Ger. Glitterhouse) 1995
Swinger 500 (Ger. Glitterhouse) 1998
Nights Between Stations — Live in Thessaloniki (Gr. Hitch-Hyke/Ger. Glitterhouse) 1995
Where the Air Is Cool and Dark (Ger. Glitterhouse) 1997

Seattle's Walkabouts play a quirkily personalized brand of updated folk-rock, distinguished by a darkly layered sound and the yin/yang vocals of founders Chris Eckman and Carla Torgerson. The early releases on Necessity and PopLlama are a bit tentative and unformed but contain enough flashes of inspiration to encourage further attention. Cataract and the six-song Rag & Bone (combined as Rag & Bone Plus Cataract, a single CD bearing the EP's original artwork) are more distinctive, mining a richly shadowy strain of Americana. The addition of keyboardist Glenn Slater is significant to the EP, helping to broaden the band's sound.

Scavenger (which adds a name producer, Gary Smith, and guest appearances by Brian Eno and Natalie Merchant) is impressive, even if the artificially speedy tempos of such numbers as "Dead Man Rise" and "Stir the Ashes" rob the songs of a certain amount of atmosphere. And even if Smith's bright, seamless production is unsuited to the subtle menace of tunes like "The Night Watch" and "Where the Deep Water Goes," the material is strong enough that the quintet's fundamental integrity still shines through, with Torgerson emerging as a particularly commanding presence. Where the Deep Water Goes combines two Scavenger tracks with non-album covers of Alex Chilton ("Big Black Car") and Neil Young ("On the Beach"), while Dead Man Rise contains the titular album track, a remix of another ("Train to Mercy") and three European radio-session recordings.

It's a shame that Sub Pop didn't see fit to release New West Motel domestically, since it's the album on which the Walkabouts truly come into their own. The more organic production approach showcases the band's instrumental strengths, giving songs like "Jack Candy," "Your Hope Shines" and "Break It Down Gently" new textures as well as a sense of aggression that's more conducive to the darker elements of the group's personality. The Jack Candy CD EP features Tom Waits and Neil Young tunes as well as an interesting reworking of a traditional gospel number.

The largely acoustic-flavored Satisfied Mind is an unsurprisingly eloquent collection of interpretations of songs from sources as diverse as the Carter Family, Charlie Rich, Patti Smith and Nick Cave. The Walkabouts' skillful renditions illuminate and extend the band's own vision; among the guests are R.E.M.'s Peter Buck and Screaming Trees singer Mark Lanegan.

Though its title quotes an old Hank Williams tune, the consistently ace Setting the Woods on Fire features all original material. It pretty much picks up where New West Motel leaves off, with strong tunes like "Firetrap," "Good Luck Morning" and the rousing, horn-driven "Hole in the Mountain" given a spiky, full-bodied grace. The Good Luck Morning EP includes two album tracks and two live numbers.

Devil's Road, the first Walkabouts disc on which the compositions are credited solely to Eckman, is its most ambitiously eclectic album and certainly one of its best. The band sounds stronger and more distinctive than ever, and the excellent use of strings on six tracks enhances the emotional potency of both restrained, aching Torgerson-sung songs ("The Light Will Stay On," "Christmas Valley") and more aggressive Eckman-led material like "Blue Head Flame."

The Chris and Carla releases are worthy adjuncts to the Walkabouts' catalogue. Shelter for an Evening is an unadorned live recording from two acoustic duo shows in Germany, with an agreeable mix of Walkabouts material and songs by Dylan, Young, Jimmy Webb and Richard Thompson. Life Full of Holes, a full-blown studio effort, is not dissimilar to Walkabouts albums except for the more relaxed (though hardly complacent) sound. The pair is here joined by the rest of the Walkabouts, Tindersticks (who back up the duo on two tracks), Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey on a typically fine set of mostly original material. Nights Between Stations — Live in Thessaloniki was recorded in Greece with local musicians.

[Scott Schinder]