The Walkabouts

Drunken Soundtracks

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The second Walkabouts rarities compilation, following Death Valley Days, Drunken Soundtracks is a mighty fine plunge into the obscurer side of the band -- admittedly already obscure enough in its home country -- during its end-of-the-'90s days. The group's eternal transformation into something new is captured wonderfully from the start -- the title track, sung by Carla Torgerson and recorded in 2001, sounds next to nothing like anything from even eight years ago aside from her wonderful voice. But rather than rural country atmospheres or classic rock fire, the song is supple and smoky with tinges of jazz and blues -- piano and drums are more prominent than anything else -- not to mention ambient techno here and there. It's a good summation of albums like Nighttown and Trail of Stars and more besides, but that said, it's hardly a case of abandoning their past (as the stunning "Death's Black Train" makes clear), more one of incorporating it and finding new settings. A number of cover versions help make this clear, starting with a strong take on Mickey Newbury's "How Many Times (Must the Pipe Be Paid for His Song)." Other songs that perhaps shed a clearer light on the Walkabouts' more recent obsession include Serge Gainsbourg's "Sorry Angel" and Scott Walker's "Cowbells Shakin'," but the former gets the brew spiked with a clattering breakbeat after being through Tom Waits' wringer. Gainsbourg takes another bow as well with a cover of "Bonnie and Clyde" originally released on a limited-edition live album -- with full backing from an orchestral string section and a dramatic arrangement with a killer false ending, it could well be the definitive English-language take. The touch of regular producers and engineers Phill Brown and Kevin Suggs can be heard throughout, bringing out the dark beauty of the songs excellently.

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