Sign up for our mailing list Real artists creating records on their own terms
Close

Sign up for our mailing list

News

Tuesday, November 21st, 2006

Waits displays range on 3-disc 'Orphans'

Tom Waits - Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards ANTI-Records

You want a feast? Have a seat at the banquet table of Tom Waits, whose "Orphans" compilation clocks in at 56 songs, totaling more than three hours of music.

Really, though, it's a misnomer to call this great stuffed bird a compilation. About half of it is brand-new, and much of the previously released material was culled from obscure soundtrack or tribute albums.

The set is parceled out in three digestible discs, each with its own tonal identity: "Brawlers," uptempo and bluesy; "Bawlers," sad-eyed and piano-dominant; and "Bastards," an unruly, experimental brew of spoken-word monologues, musical poetry interpretations and other curiosities.

Mr. Waits, a few weeks shy of 57, is a maestro of discomfiture. Violently ragged and tender, his voice startles you like that of a raving street bum; it surprises you with its beauty and, always, compels you to listen. "I try my best to chug, stump, weep, whisper, moan, wheeze, scat, blurt, rage, whine and seduce," he notes in the exhaustive, handsomely packaged lyric booklet for "Orphans."

Over the past decade, Mr. Waits and his songwriting partner and wife, Kathleen Brennan, have created an incongruous musical vocabulary. It's firmly rooted in American vernacular forms, including blues and country gospel, but it's also insanely postmodern in its disintegration. Mr. Waits, the cabaret pianist, appreciates suavity, civility and urban jazz; he covers Frank Sinatra's "Young at Heart" here, for example. But he values backwoods primal energy even more.

Mr. Waits, a devotee of Beat poetry ("Home I'll Never Be," credited to Jack Kerouac, was performed originally at a memorial to Allen Ginsberg ) and a great phrase-turner in his own right (grass as "God's green hair" is just one of many luminous metaphors), also has a knack for wordless beatboxing. On songs such as "Lucinda" and "Bone Chain," he sounds positively animalistic.

All these jostling ironies make "Orphans," front to back, one of the most solid releases of Mr. Waits' career. One day's immersion will reveal the tip of the iceberg but still leave you on the tundra. Another day gives you heat. The third day, fire. From the first notes of the demented Elvis shuffle "Lie to Me" and the T. Rex strut "LowDown," all the way through to the hidden last track that closes disc three (the hilarious supermarket-scam story "Missing Son") "Orphans" never quits; it grabs your lapels and covers you in saliva.

Mr. Waits leans on traditional blues and folk melodies and chanteys, changing timbre to lend them originality. The gorgeous, mandolin-flecked "Bottom of the World" straight away feels familiar and timeless but is sung with such raw, untrammeled passion that it sounds new -- Stephen Foster in loincloth. Likewise the pair of Ramones tributes that Mr. Waits includes here -- "The Return of Jackie and Judy" and "Danny Says." They're not so much cover versions as reinventions.

For every odd or creepy moment on "Orphans"-- and there are many, notably "Poor Little Man," the scariest lullaby ever written, and the "Snow White" deconstruction "Heigh Ho" -- there are flashes of unalloyed beauty. That untreated, faraway echo of Mr. Waits' upright piano, as on the knockout ballads "World Keeps Turning" and "Down There by the Train," is the sound of your favorite bar. And the plangent pedal-steel guitar notes heard on "Tell It to Me" and the Kurt Weill-Bertolt Brecht cover "What Keeps Mankind Alive" will almost choke you with saloon sawdust.

One of the boldest cuts here is Mr. Waits' take on cyclical Palestinian-Israeli violence, "Road to Peace," but it's a rare moment of topicality.

Mr. Waits seems far more interested in the unobserved margins, where Bob Dylan's honest outlaws live and breathe. Though humans are capable of great evil, Mr. Waits finds humor, mitigation, even redemption in all the chaos and bizarreness of life. "It's the same with men as with horses and dogs/Nothing wants to die," he croons on "The Fall of Troy." On "Down There by the Train," he sees "Judas Iscariot carrying John Wilkes Booth" toward some place of repose.

The delirious craft as well as the sensitivity of Mr. Waits' artistry have never been on more brilliant display.

Give thanks to the parents of "Orphans."

By Scott Galupo THE WASHINGTON TIMES Published November 21, 2006

Facebook | Twitter
 

Browse by Artist

1552All Artists 97Tom Waits 61Mavis Staples 54Neko Case 51Lost In The Trees 50Sean Rowe 48Dr. Dog 43The Milk Carton Kids
41Jolie Holland 40Bettye LaVette 37Man Man 33Tim Fite 33DeVotchKa 31Islands 31Grinderman 31Tinariwen 28Son Little 27Galactic 27Wilco 24Michael Franti and Spe... 24Saintseneca 22Bob Mould 22William Elliott Whitmo... 21Nick Cave & The Bad Se... 21The Frames 20Joe Henry 19Booker T. Jones 19Sage Francis 19Doe Paoro 17John K. Samson 17Yann Tiersen 16Ramblin Jack Elliott 16Jason Lytle 15Glen Hansard 15Christopher Paul Stell... 13Daniel Lanois 13Billy Bragg 13Deafheaven 13Andy Shauf 13Prism Tats 12Xavier Rudd 12Xenia Rubinos 12Peter Silberman 11The Weakerthans 11Lyrics Born 11Rain Machine 11Mose Allison 11Roky Erickson 11The Antlers 11Calexico 10The Swell Season 10The Melodic 10So Much Light 10Delicate Steve 9Marianne Faithfull 9N.A.S.A. 9Cameron Avery 8Solillaquists of Sound 8Greg Graffin 8Cadence Weapon 8The Coup 8Ryan Pollie 7Elliott Smith 7Eddie Izzard 7Dead Man's Bones 7Alec Ounsworth 7Beth Orton 7Kelly Hogan 7Title Fight 7Jade Jackson 7Ben Harper and Charlie... 6A Girl Called Eddy 6Busdriver 6Os Mutantes 6Kate Bush 6Broken Twin 6The Drums 6The Dream Syndicate 5One Day As A Lion 5The Field 5Keaton Henson 5Beat Connection 5Japandroids 4Ersi Arvizu 4Marketa Irglova 4Pops Staples 4Curtis Harding 3Danny Cohen 3Sierra Leones Refugee... 3Petra Haden 3Cass McCombs 3Girlpool 3Rafiq Bhatia 3Walter Wolfman Washing... 2Various Artists: RANGO 2Jeff Tweedy 1Tricky 1Joe Strummer And The M... 1Youth Group 1Blackalicious 1Antibalas 1Porter Wagoner 1Various Artists: ROGUE... 1The Locust 1Rogue's Gallery 1Kronos Quartet with Br... 1Simian Mobile Disco 1case/lang/veirs 1Merle Haggard 1Un Blonde 1Lido Pimienta 1Mothers 1Marc Ribot 1Richard Reed Parry
See Full List+