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Smothered in charm

Marion Walker is not a person, but an intoxicating band

Even as a duo, Marion Walker still have impact. Photo credit: Chris Riot

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You can be forgiven for thinking that Marion Walker is some rootsy folk singer from the ‘60s that was lost to the sands of time, or that she may be a retro-leaning find that is being groomed by producers that would like to snake their way into the currently profitable mode of singers being used to prop up the past sounds while expounding the new. To use a feeble metaphor, I'll tell you I spent many years avoiding Cheers as a child, because its opening credits signaled something deeply boring and adult. I never knew its simple joys because I was immediately turned off by images of sepia-toned revelers in bowler hats raising aloft pints of beer. Aesthetics prevented me from knowing how good Cheers was.

So it may be with this band. Marion Walker is not one person, but rather a duo who sometimes find themselves in the company of other musicians. The core two-piece is made up of Jessie Marion Smith and Kyle Walker Atkins. Their middle names then smash together like a f'd-up law firm, whose only goal is not to hold a candle to the law, but rather to illuminate rock and roll and its position as mover and shaker of your body. Like Cheers before them, they seek not to settle into the dull history of entertainment, but to take existing ideas and pepper them with so much character that any imitations of past properties are smothered in charm.

My first initiation into the sound of Marion Walker was through their 11-minute cassette release entitled Serious Picnic, which does a fairly good job of establishing their range of sound. The catchy first three minutes give way to a thudding garage rock stomp, with an intoxicating boy-girl vocal accompanying every movement. Once the guitars take over and voices are relegated to being instruments of their own, wailing in the background, Marion Walker finds a bigger familiarity with other heavy rock acts.

"You Knew the Risk," from an earlier release, also finds them leaning on the heavier side of guitar rock, but the underlying sense is always one of a band that has a keen understanding of sloppy hooks and joyously mussed-up riffs. "We Won't Be Alone Much Longer," an even earlier single, finds its soul with a depressed piano line and a tentatively angsty guitar. What Marion Walker establishes is a tendency to bathe in the crooked and slimy, which makes sense given their record label (Casino Trash).

Part of Marion Walker is from Seattle, and part of it is from Reno, Nevada. I've spent some time in Reno, due to relatives that live on the outskirts in Sparks. I remember visiting my family in Sparks on Christmas and being notably pissed that it snowed on Christmas day, right there in the cruel desert. What maddened me was that I just knew this wasn't happening back in Tacoma. My other time spent in Reno was mostly at Circus Circus, which I recall as a loud, ugly, ingratiating nightmare of blaring sounds and blinding lights. Marion Walker sounds to me like snow in the desert and a casino aimed at capturing children - a combination I resented as a child, but a feeling that I'm drawn to as an adult.

When you're repelled by the outward appearance of an entertainment, I'd say you're usually correct. Still, something like Cheers or Marion Walker comes along and you can't help but be drawn in despite the best of your efforts. Building up your critical eye is important, but there's always the chance that your first notion is dead wrong.

REAL ART TACOMA, w/ Cheap Sweat, Soggy Creep, Coke and Snickers, Friday, Jan. 15, 7 p.m., $5-$8, 5412 S. Tacoma Way, Tacoma, realarttacoma.com

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