Is there anyone who still questions Tom Waits's place in the pantheon of great American songwriters? If so, sit them down with Orphans, 54 tracks of new recordings and rarities. That this sprawling work can actually be listened to in one sitting (and sounds great the whole way) speaks volumes about Waits's extraordinary range. While the album is ostensibly divided thematically, each of the three discs has its share of wheezing, ramshackle rockers, art-damaged blues stomps, bruised but beautiful ballads and assorted, unclassifiable weirdness. The swaying, mournful "Bottom of the World" stands with the best Waits ballads; the pained "Road to Peace," which finds Waits lamenting the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is the most overtly political tune in the songwriter's catalog; and his reinvention of two Ramones songs (the bull-in-a-china-shop blast through "The Return of Jackie and Judy" and a tender, subdued reading of "Danny Says") are clever, thoughtful and bold. A few tunes here won't stand up to repeated listening, but not one track here could be called dull. That's an accomplishment as inspiring as it is rare.
-David Peisner href="http://playboy.com/arts-entertainment/reviews/music/tom-waits/" target="_blank">www.playboy.com