The life and times of the world's most prolific barfly... While Tom Waits' nearly 35-year career can't be segmented neatly (he's just too damned unpredictable), it does have a few distinct stages. On Orphans, the gravelly troubadour constructs a three-CD, 54-song safehouse for wayward material both new and old, documenting his move -- aesthetically, if not always chronologically -- from skid-row bluesman (Brawlers) to lyrical balladeer (Bawlers) to scrap-heap experimentalist (Bastards). Though the set's marathon length may keep casual listeners at a distance, fans of the eccentric characters, styles, and emotional arcs that compose Waits' oeuvre know there's no such thing as a "casual" Tom Waits listener anyway.
AARON BURGESS www.spin.com