LAST TRAIN HOME

"Time and Water"

Adult Swim

KATHLEEN EDWARDS

"Failer"

Zoe/Rounder

SCOTT E. MOORE

"Mr. Misunderstood"

Wingtip

Last Train Home is pulling out of town, but not before leaving alt-country fans with something worth hearing again and again. Led by this newspaper's Nightwatch columnist Eric Brace, now on leave, the band has packed "Time and Water" with enough soulful ballads and mood-shifting treats to make you wish they'd reconsider their Nashville travel plans.

The ballads include the album's evocative title track, featuring one of Brace's most haunting vocal performances, and guitarist Scott McKnight's "All Gone Now," which boasts a melody that's nearly impossible to shake. Brace's "Blue Skies" and Mary Battiata's "All Right Okay," on the other hand, are firmly rooted in honky-tonk traditions and vibrantly arranged with splashes of piano, dobro, pedal steel guitar and fiddle. A pair of excursions into bluegrass lead to a fresh but faithful take on murder in the hill country, via Brace's "See What Love Can Do," and to an even fresher, raucously unfaithful reprise of the Bill Monroe/Peter Rowan classic "Walls of Time."

There are other enjoyable side trips, too, such as Alan Brace's southern soul turn on "He's the Kind" and the snazzy Latin lounge-inspired coda "Las Lagrimas Del Pollo Rico." All the while, Australian guitarist Jeff Lang and several talented local musicians contribute to the album's array of striking and subtle colors.

"Failer," the debut album by 24-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards, has already generated reams of favorable reviews, and plenty of them have favorably linked her name to Lucinda Williams. The Williams connection is obvious the moment Edwards and her band turn up the twang on opening cut, "Six O'Clock News." But some of the ballads on "Failer" are so bleak, so shot through with allusions to addiction, betrayal and despair, that Williams seems almost cheery by comparison. "Hockey Skates," "Mercury" and other tunes concern characters who have little to look forward to and a lot to get past, though there seldom seems much chance of that happening. Edwards makes all their suffocating misery ring true.

Though he's from New Jersey, singer-songwriter Scott E. Moore clearly has a thing for southern soul music. That much is clear even when Moore pays tribute to fellow Jerseyite Frank Sinatra on "Bye Bye, Frankie," one of the more engaging tracks on "Mr. Misunderstood." With his hushed tenor voice, clever lyrics and relaxed grooves, Moore carves out a niche on the album somewhere between Keb' Mo' and Michael Franks, which means he'll probably appeal to a lot of folks who prefer to have even their blues served sunny side up.

-- Mike Joyce

Last Train Home appearing Friday with Kathleen Edwards, Saturday with Scott E. Moore and Sunday afternoon at IOTA. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Last Train Home, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8124; to hear Scott E. Moore, press 8125; to hear Kathleen Edwards, press 8126. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)