Don Walker - Cutting Back

I should be up front with you - I've heard of Don Walker and, of course, his enviable musical reputation, but up until now I've never really been exposed to his music (outside of Chisel of course). Make of that what you will, but reputation and experience do not necessarily make a good album. So let's try to put history aside for a second.


For the most part it's Walker's lyrics that set him apart from your average blues-er. They're verbose and evocative but filled with a wry sense of humour. The opener ‘Get Along' sets the lyrical tone for the album in its chorus -


"They estimate there's three billion people in this world and I wonder how the other two billion, nine hundred and ninety-nine million, nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety nine…… Get Alooooong"


Clever word play is scattered throughout the album. For instance, in ‘My Ex-Wife' he laments that "… the wives of all of my ex-friends are friends of my ex-wife." The album is filled will tales of small country towns; loves lost and found and loves lost and found in small country towns. Walker sings with a soulful croon that seems just that little bit ragged and aged - matching the tone of the album. My only objection on this front is the slight accent (situated somewhere in the middle of the USA) with which the vocals are delivered.


Musically much of the album is situated right in the middle of the road (a dusty country road at that). But it's not all straight blues, or blues rock. For example the barbershop harmonies in ‘Get Along' and the off kilter, haunting slide guitar in ‘My Ex-Wife' and ‘Get Along' are the highlights of those tracks. Much of the album is mid-tempo blues or blues rock except for ‘Yakuza Girls' - a down and dirty rocker where Walker and his band kick out the jams for a tale of Asian-style debauchery.


It's when the tempo takes a step in the other direction, however, that things get really interesting. Several of the tracks, such as ‘The Way You Are Tonight' and ‘Sweet Eyes', are stripped back to little more than Walker's piano - which bring the lyrics to the fore. ‘Fallen Angels' is the best of this pack. It may be recorded live, in a very lo-fi style, but the emotional impact of its desperation and yearning puts most of the album's more polished tracks to shame.


Despite this, the album's centrepiece is most definitely its title track. A solid bass groove underpins the track while gentle piano tinkering and strings add a slightly optimistic feeling to the tone. The spoken word vocals (I know!… but it actually works pretty well) play out as a phone conversation in which Don plays the aging man reminiscing with an old lover, with some regret, about their past and the mistakes they (he) made along the way - all the while trying to convince his ex (and himself) that he's ‘been cutting back'.


The smoke/smoking symbolism of the track could equally be extended to the album as a whole. On the cover Don relaxes while puffing on a cigarette. His ragged features are filtered through a mist of smoke. Similarly much of the album sounds like it's been designed to be experienced in similar settings. It's a sound born out of smoke filled bars full of smoke filled punters. (It's a real shame the stuff smells so bad and kills you!)

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