CD Reviews for 12/15/06 – Tom Waits

Compact Capsules for 12/15/06
by Dan Ferguson

Tom Waits
Anti Records 86677

During a recent interview for NPR’s Weekend Edition to talk about his latest release called Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards, Tom Waits more or less said he shot the wad, so to speak, on this extravaganza of 56 tunes, 30 of which are new recordings, broken into three parts and spread across three separately titled discs. By shooting the wad, he meant that this wad should take care of fans for a good long time. Not that he’s thinking about hanging it up, but Orphans is unequivocally the Waits big gulp that should have true fans staggering at both its proportions and artistry. Label it an extravaganza of scraps excavated from the junkyard of the wide Waits musical spectrum. Disc One is subtitled “Brawlers” and on it Waits’ junkyard mojo is in full bloom across each of its 16 tracks. The fixins found on this first platter are a hardscrabble mix of tough rockabilly, juke joint blues, and underbelly rock & roll honky tonk that in sum total is about as good as anything he’s ever put on record. With pitter patter vocals and all, Waits sounds like some long lost rockabilly artifact on the big beat of the leadoff track “Lie to Me”. It gives way to the grungy big riff blues of “Low Down” before the big clang and raw meat sounds of “2:19”. If Waits doesn’t have you pulled into his web after this opening triplet, then hang ’em up. Other standouts are Waits in slobbering singer mode on the pretty and tender “Bottom of the World”, getting uncharacteristically political on “Road to Peace”, and delivering one of two Ramones covers on the set with a romp and stomp rendition “The Return of Jack and Judy”, ravaged voice and all. Disc Two, subtitled “Bawlers”, serves up 20 ballad-leaning numbers that find Waits moving from the crusty-voiced crooner of “Bend Down the Branches” which sounds like a lullaby fetched from the Disney archives to sepia-colored torch songs (“You Can’t Hold Back Spring” has all the feel of a fuzzy 78 RPM antique) to a Celtic waltz (“Widow’s Grove”) to saloon sing-alongs (a cover of “Goodnight Irene” is Waits in barroom bard mode) to stripped-down balladry (“Danny Says” from the Ramones archives is stunning in all its bare bones beauty). Disc Three, called “Bastards”, is a fittingly titled smorgasbord of odds and sods spoken word pieces, experimental tracks (check out Waits’ hip hop wanderings on the beat box antics of “Spidey’s Wild Ride”!) and other assorted oddities on which he channels everything from Bukowski to Daniel Johnston (“King Kong”) to Kerouac (“On the Road”) to the Seven Dwarves (a sppoked-out “Heigh Ho”). In the accompanying press release, Waits describes Orphans as containing music for all occasions. Organized with his wife and chief collaborator Kathleen Brennan, the genius of Tom Waits is in all its flying colors on Orphans. It is necessary goods. Highly recommended. (Anti Records,

(Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3. He lives in Peace Dale and can be reached at [email protected].)