It's difficult to overstate Tom Waits' importance and impact: With a career that spans more than 20 albums, he blends countless musical and theatrical styles, from classic jazz, blues and polka to rock and folk. Held together with his gravelly rasp, his music is instantly recognizable and endlessly compelling. Waits' visionary songwriting (with a major assist from wife Kathleen Brennan) and experimental nature have kept fans enthralled for decades.
Beginning with his classic 1973 debut, Closing Time, Waits has maintained a steady release schedule, but his musical style has undergone a drastic evolution. The barroom piano of Closing Time gave way a decade later to the bizarre, horn-based experimentation of 1983's Swordfishtrombones. His style has only become more distinctive since then, as he's continued to weave new elements into his music, in the process sealing his reputation as one of the rock era's most important artists.
Waits' newest album, 2006's Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards, is a three-disc, 56-song collection of old and new material. Each disc bears a different title and encompasses a different set of musical styles: Brawlers consists of raucous blues and barroom stompers; Bawlers focuses on Celtic and country ballads and waltzes; and Bastards, as might be expected, is the odd one out, filled with music of a more experimental bent. At this point in Waits' career, every new release seems like an event, but Orphans is even bigger than most.
Related Tom Waits stories currently online @ NPR.org:
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