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Old 10-31-2021, 11:32 AM   #21 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Trollheart View Post
It's not the greatest, and a poor follow-up to Small Change, but it has its moments. I like "Potter's Field" a lot (even though it's not his music) and "Barber Shop" always makes me grin. The interaction between him and Midler is class. But yeah, a lot of filler. Which is why it got such a low (!) rating.
HA! You're too nice, Trollheart. That or this is one of those Yankee/Europe divides due to the metric system.
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Old 11-01-2021, 06:56 PM   #22 (permalink)
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Although really none of Waits's albums would ever be considered a proper commercial breakthrough, would never yield him that big hit single or that track that took him into the households of the world and made him known to all, he has quietly over the years insinuated himself into a position almost of music god. So many musicians quote, cite, cover or are influenced by him that it's tempting to think that he was around forever. But though mainstream success eluded him - I don't really think he bothered courting it, to be honest - his albums over a period from 1976 to 1987 just got better and better, and this is what I would consider his golden period. That's not to say that albums following that were poor, but as he stretched out in new directions and tried new things, albums like Bone machine, The Black Rider, Alice and Blood Money just seemed to lack something, be a little less accessible. This, however, remains one of his crowning achievements for me. But then, so does the next. And the next...

Blue Valentine (1978)

One thing you always got from Waits, at least around this time, was pure frank honesty on the cover of his albums. He didn't go for showy, glitzy or abstract album covers: it was usually just a picture of him, but the picture almost always portrayed a particular aspect of him, or referenced the state of mind or body he was in at the time. Closing Time shows him leaning against a piano, alone, perhaps a little daunted on his first outing but still with a confident swagger and a gleam in his eye, while on the cover of Small Change he's addressing his rampant alcoholism and destructive lifestyle, looking away as if to say “What the fuck am I doing here?” On the front of this album we find him in reflective mood, perhaps thinking about lost lovers, his career or his attempts to stop drinking before it killed him. You can almost see into his heart, which is appropriate given the title, and there's a world-weariness and almost a sense of resignation in his nearly-closed eyes; you can nearly hear him sighing.

But if you thought the album was going to be a contractual obligation, by-the-numbers effort that he really wasn't interested in, then you really don't know Tom Waits. The album contains some of his most cynical songs alongside some of his most beautiful ballads, and is almost a marriage of Heaven and Hell as he goes once again searching through the alleyways of society after dark, poking through the refuse to reveal the human detritus, the spent men and fallen women, the whores and the drunks and the barkers and the con-men, and telling their stories.

Proving once again that you must expect the unexpected with Waits, the album opens on a cover of the famous “Somewhere” from the musical West Side Story, Waits giving it his own special ragged touch as he growls his way through the love ballad, supported by the return of Bob Alcivar's sumptuous orchestra. It's completely out of left-field, something he has never done before and something I don't think he ever repeated, and it sets the tone for the album. Almost like "Thunder Road" on Bruce's Born to run, it's the only optimistic song on the album, which then descends into a litany of hookers, pimps, eloping kids and spree killers as, if you like, Waits leaves the movie theatre and shuffles back out onto the hard cold streets of reality, turning his collar up against the rain, back in the world he knows.

The song is followed by “Red Shoes By the Drugstore”, which rides on a boppy, upbeat percussion with sort of sprinkled guitar flying through it, almost like a tribal dance or something. Typical again of Waits, there's no real structure to the song, no verse/chorus/verse; it just sort of runs as an almost stream-of-consciousness lyric yet with a definite form. Having eschewed guitar completely from his previous album Waits perhaps overcompensates this time out, bringing in three more apart from himself, giving the album a fuller sound.

One of his alltime classics is up next, the heartbreaking ballad “Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis”, as a woman writes to her ex-lover to tell him how well her life is working out these days. ”Stopped taking dope/ Quit drinking whiskey/ My old man plays the trombone/ Works out at the track.” It's a solo performance by Waits on the piano, a slow, bluesy melody, but in the end the woman comes clean: ”Charlie, for God's sake/ You wanna know the truth of it?/ Don't have no husband/ He don't play the trombone/ Need to borrow money...” It also contains one of my favourite lines written by Waits: ”Everyone I used to know/ Is either dead or in prison.”

I feel the jazz elements are lessened here too, as he proceeds into a straighter blues rock direction, particularly on the next two tracks, starting with “Romeo is Bleeding”, with a certain Latin swing to it and a feel of, again, the gangs from West Side Story with finger clicking and congas, the vocal a low hiss, almost as if Waits is afraid to be heard, maybe hiding from the gangs. Some great organ on this for which we owe thanks to Charles Kynard, as Waits tells the story of the gang leader who listens to the police sirens but ”just laughs, cos all the racket in the world/ Ain't gonna save that copper's ass/ He ain't never gonna see another summer/ For cuttin' down my brother/ And leavin' him like a dog behind that car without his knife.”. Romeo has been shot but doesn't seem to care, or even notice, hard as nails and probably realising he's dying but glad that he has extracted retribution for his brother.

For the second time Waits records a song over eight minutes, and it's a belter as he really sinks his teeth into the blues for “29$”, another of my favourites on this album. With Kynard again at the helm and Waits himself in fine form on the piano, featuring some stupendously righteous blues guitar the song again follows a broken-down resident of the night city as he tells her ”Little black girl/ You shoulda never left home/ There's probably someone that's/ Still waiting up for you.” and true to his fears the girl is hustled, robbed and ends up in hospital where the doctor shakes his head and groans ”Lucky to be alive/ Only lost half a pint of blood/ Twenty-nine dollars/ And an alligator purse.” Some truly superb blues playing here makes the song seem nowhere as long as it is, and you could listen to it for twice the length. It's a great cautionary tale, again jumping back to “Burma-shave” and showing that the grass is not always greener, that sometimes it's better to stay at home where you're safe.

You might think after a powerhouse performance like that, the album would begin to dip a little in quality, and to be fair, this might be the case with lesser artists, but Waits has his foot on the throttle here and he ain't braking for no red light! There are five songs to come and each is as good as, if not better than the other. “Wrong Side of the Road” takes as its protagonist a couple eloping, with a blues shuffle and again exquisite organ work from Charles Kynard as the man encourages the woman to come with him against her parent's wishes, to run away with him to Reno. It's a slow blues meander as he snarls ”Tell your momma and your poppa/ They can kiss your ass/ Poison all the water/ In the wishing well.” This guy also does not have the Christmas spirit in his heart, as he sneers "Strangle all the Christmas carollers/ Scratch out all their prayers/ Tie 'em up with barbed wire/ And push 'em down the stairs.”

As he convinces her to leave her house and head off with him his intentions take on a much darker tone when he promises "With my double-barrelled shotgun/ And a whole box of shells/ We'll celebrate the Fourth of July/ We'll do a hundred miles an hour/ Spendin' someone else's dough/ Drive all the way to Reno/ On the wrong side of the road.” The tempo kicks up then for the infectious “Whistlin' Past the Graveyard” in which Waits lays the urban legend down that he was ”Born in a taxi cab”. There's a bit more of the jazz about this one, with trumpets and saxes taking the tune and bouncing it along like Waits as he goes ”Whistlin' past the graveyard/ Steppin' on no crack.” The next song again I've written extensively on, so let me just say that “Kentucky Avenue” is a piano ballad that seems at first to be a story of two kids making plans for their day, until right at the end you realise one is handicapped, as Waits sings, in one of his most emotional vocals, ”Take the spokes from your wheelchair/ And a magpie's wing/ I'll steal a hacksaw from my dad/ Cut the braces off your legs.” It's a song that always makes me cry, and I don't care who knows it. A fragile, viciously beautiful and bitter, heart-smashing ballad that nobody else but Waits could write. The orchestra coming in at the revelation in the lyric just increases the pathos and tragedy of the song. My eyes are wet even now, and that's how it should be with a song such as this.

Then we're in the seedy hotels that he has frequented no doubt on more than one occasion for “A Sweet Little Bullet From a Pretty Blue Gun”, somewhat of a return to the rhythm of “Romeo is Bleeding”, and with Waits again plundering childhood tunes as he opens with ”It's raining, it's pouring” and later ”Old man is snoring/ Now I lay me down to sleep/ Hear the sirens in the street/ All my dreams are made of chrome/ Have no way to get back home/ And I'd rather die before I wake/ Like Marilyn Monroe.” The guitars play a great part in this, as does the sax, and it just oozes trashy sexuality and questionable morals as it slinks along the alleyways. At its heart, it's a song that looks back to “29$” and describes the plight of the many thousands of young girls who leave home looking for fame, to be discovered, and end up peddling their bodies, the only thing left that they can sell, on the hard city streets.

The title track closes the album, and it's another bitter ballad, with the addition of an “s” to the end, making it “Blue Valentines”, as the album cover becomes the song, Waits recalling the cards he gets from his ex-lover in Philly "To mark the anniversary/ Of someone that I used to be/ And it feels like there's/ A warrant out for my arrest.” Reflective guitar carries the song almost on its own, no percussion, no sax, no piano, a true triumph, an indication of what can be done with just one instrument. Okay, it's probably a few guitars, but nothing else that I can hear. The song also references his drinking days and what it has done to him as he moans "It takes a whole lot of whiskey/ To make these nightmares go away/ And I cut my bleedin' heart out every night.”

TRACK LISTING

1. Somewhere
2. Red Shoes By the Drugstore
3. Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis
4. Romeo is Bleeding
5. 29$
6. Wrong Side of the Road
7. Whistlin' past the graveyard
8. Kentucky Avenue
9. A Sweet Little Bullet From a Pretty Blue Gun
10. Blue Valentines

At this point, I feel there just was no stopping Waits. Having created a masterpiece like “Blue Valentine” you would have forgiven him for taking a rest, but no: it only took two more years before he would release yet another incredible album. If nothing else though, this showed his refusal to be categorised, boxed in, restricted. On Small Change he had gone in all directions, making it impossible both to pin him down and to know or be able to guess where he would jump next. For Foreign Affairs he went all film-noir and bluesy, and now he was throwing blues and jazz together and adding in some other elements, but continuing to talk and tell the stories of the dispossessed, the pathetic, the drunk and the abused, and to send some half-drunk warnings to those who wanted or wished to join the dark world, tread the grey, unforgiving streets he walked.

If you want to make it out here, you had better man (or woman) up and grow yourself a real thick hide, cos this ain't no place for the weak. You'll be chewed up and spat out by the system, and the only way to avoid that is to do some chewin' and spittin' yourself. You wanna take a walk on the wild side, you better have the bus fare, cos this wagon ain't stoppin' any time soon, and once you're on board you're there for the long haul.

So look into my eyes, kid, he says, chewing down on a cigar and knocking back a whiskey, his bloodshot eyes trying to make out which of the two of you he's taking to, and tell me you got what it takes to make it on these mean streets, And if not, then stay at home with your parents and your college degree and your dog and your summer job, cos you wouldn't last pissin' time.

It ain't nice out here.

Rating: 9.8/10
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Old 11-01-2021, 07:02 PM   #23 (permalink)
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Blue Valentine is my favorite record of his. Came along at the right time, hit the right notes, was expansive enough without being inaccessible. I'll forever love this album. 4 of these tracks would make any best-of I put together for him.
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Old 11-02-2021, 09:36 PM   #24 (permalink)
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Thought I'd throw this link in before the next review. It's where I go on and on about "Kentucky Avenue" in the short series I did in my journal where I look at Waits's lyrical magic, under the title of The Word According to Waits. It's the second one down.

Kentucky Avenue
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Old 11-07-2021, 06:51 AM   #25 (permalink)
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Thank you so much for providing MBers with a breakdown of TW's discography, Trollheart! It has been the perfect introduction for me with my "should get round to listening to him one day" attitude to the great man.

So far, I've only read about the first few albums, playing your selected clips on the assumption that you've picked the most memorable songs to showcase each album. Favourites so far: Depot, depot, Eggs&Sausage, Hope I don't Fall In Love.

The lyrics are so cool and clever, but I struggle to accept his voice. Another problem has been how well, and how consistently he evokes a mood; the boozy after-hours jazz club of regret. Often, I'm not much in the mood to go to that place; I'm like a tourist, putting my head in at the door of TW's murkey bar, but deciding, "You know what? I think I'll walk in the park and get some fresh air instead."

Anyway, I will continue to read your thread because (skimming) Blue Valentine appears to be a good album.
Thanks again,TH
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Old 11-07-2021, 11:34 AM   #26 (permalink)
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Okay, well his voice is certainly an acquired taste (I think in one review I compared it to chewing gravel for breakfast?) but after the mid-1980s he adopted a much different tone, basically copying some fella called Van Vliet, not sure who he is. His voice then got by degrees more screechy and wild, though he would lapse back into "his" voice on certain tracks. I suppose it depends on whether or not you enjoy listening to the Captain sing (!) as to whether or not you would enjoy his later work. The music, too, became very experimental.

He's not for every one, but as I say in the intro, the chances are you'll have heard Springsteen, Stewart, Seger or someone else sing one of his songs as they've been covered so often. I personally don't have to "go there" to listen to his music: certainly the lyrical fare is usually downbeat, but I can listen to say "Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis" without needing to drown my sorrows, or "Cemetery Polka" without having to shoulder a shovel and grab a powerful torch.

Glad you're at least interested in the reviews, and who knows? We may make a Waits fan out of you yet.
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Old 11-08-2021, 08:06 PM   #27 (permalink)
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”Probably see someone you know on Heartattack and Vine" croaks Waits in the title track, and perhaps you can. Maybe they're one of those ”Pedal pushers suckin' on a soda pop" or the woman being left sleeping as her lover steals away in “Ruby's Arms”, or maybe even the guy who warns “If I can find a book of matches/ I'm gonna burn this hotel down” in “Mr. Siegal". For this album Waits created another cast of characters, all stumbling through their lives and trying to do the best they can, while grabbing what little happiness or shelter they could on the way. It was two years later, and four years into the Waits golden era, when he came up with this gem, which would lead to his songs being covered by a real icon and also to a protracted legal battle over the use of one of them. It was also the year he would part company with his longtime record label.

Heartattack and Vine (1980)

One thing - one of the many things - I love about this album is the cover. From the start, Waits has always been on the album sleeve. Sometimes looking a little the worse for wear, but here he's in a hell of a state. On one of the monologues on Nighthawks at the Diner, Waits growls that someone once commented “Christ Waits, you look so raggedy!” And here he does. He actually looks like he has been pulled through the proverbial bush backwards. Even though he's wearing a tuxedo, it looks as if someone dressed him when he was asleep or drunk or both, and he woke up, took one look at his reflection and said “What the hell am I doing in this monkey suit?”

But the picture aside, the sleeve is very clever as I have already mentioned when I featured this, way back when, as one of the “Secret life of the album cover” slots. It's presented like a newspaper, with the titles of some of the songs showing as the headlines, and underneath each are snippets of the lyrics to those songs, written like clippings with a reference to the city in which the song is set. Really innovative, and you can spend some time reading the cover and getting a whole lot more out of it than you would have expected. But that's the cover. What about the music on the disc inside?

We open on the title track, and somehow there's a kind of honking guitar, which takes the first two bars of the song in before the vocal begins. Waits sings in a somewhat scratchier, and slightly higher register voice than he has up to now, though this album would see him try out several new vocal techniques and show just how versatile that sandpaper larynx was. He continues the kind of travelogue lyric he displayed on some of the songs on Nighthawks as he takes a trip down Hollywood and Vine, renamed for the song, and points out the various characters - ”See that little Jersey girl with the see-through top?” and ”Doctor, lawyer, beggarman, thief” - yes, all of human life is again on display in all its fragility and vulnerability.

The song mostly continues on the same chords, apart from the bridge, where it changes very slightly - well, it could be a chorus: hard to say with Waits, as he seldom sticks to any musical rules and often makes his own up. It's a hard-rockin' tune though, probably the most in-your-face we've heard since, well, ever. It's almost a total change of style, from the breezy devil-may-care attitude of “Romeo is Bleeding” or the maniacal killing spree in “Wrong Side of the Road”. You can just see him with his hands in his pockets, (at this stage he was getting his drinking under control, so let's assume his character has managed to kick the bottle too) strolling down the street, stopping under a lamppost to adjust his hat and light up a cigarette, grin at some girl across the road and saunter on.

This is, to my knowledge (I'd have to check back but I think I'm right) the first time Waits has mentioned or brought God into his songs (other than exclamations like “Christ!” of course), and when he does it's not as a bible-thumper - you'd never have expected that anyway - but with a sly wink and a dry joke at his expense. ”Don't you know there ain't no devil?” he grins. ”That's just God when he's drunk!” Love that line. This is the song that led to that lawsuit I spoke of in the introduction. Levi's used a cover of this by “Screamin'” Jay Hawkins, who had given them permission to, but Waits was not so sanguine about the idea. Someone who does not like his music being used to sell products, Waits took a case against Levi's and won. Since then you won't find his music in any advertisements.

Some great trumpet in this too, adds to the sort of raw feel of it as Waits snarls ”This stuff'll probably kill ya/ Let's do another line.” It's followed by an instrumental which could have come off The Heart of Saturday Night, as “In Shades” envisions him in a club where nobody is really listening to him, and he's playing background music against which people have their conversations and drink their drinks. There's some great Hammond organ from Ronnie Barron and some fine, laidback guitar too. I like the idea he's gone for, where you hear, in between the bars, people talking and glasses clinking, and when the song ends there's the barest smattering of applause. Clever too, how they applaud when the song hits a false ending. Very jazzy, and it leads into the first of four ballads, which I think may be the most he's had on any one album to this point.

“Saving All My Love For You” is driven by Bob Alcivar's beautiful orchestral work again, the man having become something of a permanent fixture on Waits albums since he wrote the music for “Potter's Field” on Foreign Affairs. Pealing churchbells pull the tune in then are absorbed very cleverly into the actual melody as Waits's piano takes over. He sings of an early morning when "No-one in this town/ Is makin' any noise/ But the dogs, and the milkman and me.” It's back to his familiar rough drawl as he admits ”I'd come home/ But I'm afraid that you won't/ Take me back.” The song also contains one of my alltime favourite Waits lines (this album has three, one of which I've already mentioned) when he sings ”I'll probably get arrested/ When I'm in my grave.” Did a line ever encompass a man's reputation so perfectly before?

It's a beautiful ballad, relatively short, and then the tempo picks up a little on the organ-driven “Downtown” which kicks its heels along with a sort of sullen pleasure, dragging its feet and shaking its head. Some good boogie guitar joins the organ and the whole thing has a swagger about it, then the next one is one of perhaps his most famous, having been covered by Springsteen. With a simple acoustic guitar and bass, “Jersey Girl” is an uncomplicated song of young love, as Waits declares ”Nothing else matters in/ This whole wide world/ When you're in love/ With a Jersey girl.” Some lovely orchestral strings swelling up through the chorus here too. Wonderful song.

And from a heartfelt love song we're on the other side of the coin as Waits sneers ”Baby I'll stay with you/ Till the money runs out” launching into the song with lowdown dirty delight as he sings ”Bye bye baby/ Baby bye bye!” Again the organ plays a prominent part in this mid-paced rocker, though so too does the bass from Larry Taylor. If anyone knows what “on the nickel” means, please let me know. I think it refers to social welfare? Anyway, it's the title of the next track, another beautiful ballad, which just shows how Waits can swing from cynical user to concerned observer, as with the backing of Alcivar's lush strings again he opens with another nursery rhyme snippet - ”Stick and stones/ Will break my bones” - and sings a lullaby to his child. Piano threads through the song, as does more folk rhymes - ”Better bring a bucket/ There's a hole in the pail/ If you don't get my letters/ You'll know that I'm in jail.”

Even with this tender ballad under his belt, the best is yet to come in the closer. Waits drops his register even lower for the second part of the song, which gives it a rougher, rawer feel, then he switches from high to low as the song progresses. More nursery rhymes corrupted as he sings ”Ring around the roses/ Sleeping in the rain”. Then he warns ”The world just keep on getting bigger/ Once you get out on your own.” It's hard to choose a standout, as so many of the songs could qualify, but “Mr. Siegal” does contain another of my favourite lines, when he growls "How do the angels get to sleep/ When the devil leaves/ The porchlight on?” It's another bluesy, rocky tune with a scratchy vocal from Waits, scratchy guitar and warbling organ, moving the song along in a mid-paced swaying rhythm. With the references to casinos and the title presumably nodding to the famous gangster who built Las Vegas, it seems to be a song about a guy losing his shirt and trying to make it out of the city. Waits even tips his battered hat to The King when he sings ”One for the money/ Two for the show/ Three to get ready/ Now go man go!”

He has in fact saved the best for last. One more heart-squeezing ballad before we're out, and it's one of his best. “Ruby's Arms” is the story of a man leaving his sleeping lover and stealing away in the early hours of the morning. As if he's spent himself with the rest of the album, Waits's voice is low and soft here (or perhaps he doesn't want to wake Ruby) and almost breaking with emotion as he tries to tear himself from her - ”The only thing I'm taking is/ The scarf off of your clothesline” - his piano and the orchestra combining beautifully to end the album on the very gentlest of closers, and prove once again that Waits can turn his hand to anything: he can make you cry, laugh, shock and scare you, open your eyes to a pitiless, unforgiving world or draw you into a secret, safe place where you can hide for a while. A true artist who has never compromised his art, and hopefully never will.

TRACK LISTING

1. Heartattack and Vine
2. In Shades
3. Saving All My Love For You
4. Downtown
5. Jersey Girl
6. Till the Money Runs Out
7. On the Nickel
8. Mr. Siegal
9. Ruby's Arms

Like Foreign Affairs, this album has a mere nine tracks, though just about every one is gold. The previous album had ten, but from this on in Waits's albums would be much longer, culminating in the triple box set Orphans: Bawlers, Brawlers and Bastards which would feature no less than fifty-six new tracks. That's not till 2006 though, and there are eleven more albums to go before we reach that, the next one being his first full movie soundtrack and a collaboration with a Country music superstar and legend.

Rating: 9.8/10
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Old 11-17-2021, 11:22 AM   #28 (permalink)
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While normally I would tend not to include movie soundtracks in discographies, this time there are a few reasons for breaking that rule. First off, you're usually talking about an instrumental-only affair, with possibly music from other artistes on it. Second, the music is usually not all written by the artiste in question and has little relevance to their own collection. None of these apply to the next album. Waits wrote all the songs and music for it, and not only that, it was while recording this album that he was to meet the love of his life, future wife and songwriting partner, Kathleen Brennan. Add to that the fact that he collaborates with Crystal Gayle on some of the tracks (she is solo on some, but even then he's writing the music and lyrics) and you really have an album you can't overlook.

So I won't.

“One From the Heart” original soundtrack (1982) (with Crystal Gayle)

Written for a movie that's far less sublime than its music is, “One From the Heart” (the movie) is a massive disappointment, the more surprising when you consider that the great Francis Ford Coppola himself directs it. But at its heart (hah!) it's an awkward story of the love between two people and the trials they go through. Having loved this album, and wanting to hear how it translated within the movie, I watched it and was left with a feeling of an hour and a half wasted: the movie was formulaic drivel basically, but the music: ah, that's something else entirely. Step this way, my friend.

There's a typical Waits piano line opening the album, kind of reminds me of “I Never Talk to Strangers”, then Waits's voice is low and hoarse, counterpointed by the clear tones of Crystal Gayle, and they duet beautifully on the last line, before the brass section takes the song, following some nice strings conducted by the almost by now permanent fixture Bob Alcivar, as we move into a sleazy blues tune with jazz overtones for the second part of the introduction, “The Wages of Love”, Waits and Gayle again duetting. Lyrically it's a dark song as Gayle sings "Firmly believe love was designed/ To exploit and deceive” and it moves slowly along with sax and trumpet and soft percussion, into the first solo song from Crystal Gayle.

It's only a short one, just over two minutes, but it's a beautiful ode to love lost as she sings “Is There Any Way Out of This Dream?” with Waits on the piano, her soulful voice lighting up the composition. Although Waits does not sing on this you can hear his songwriting genius in lines like ”Let's take a hammer to it/ There's no glamour in it” and ”Summer is dragging its feet/ I feel so incomplete.” There's also some a lovely tenor sax solo taking the song into its conclusion. Then Gayle remains behind the mike but is joined by Waits for a classic as he argues the benefits of his lifestyle and she snaps at his untidiness in “Picking Up After You”. Waits at his most sleazy is brilliant in this, as he groans ”Looks like you spent the night in a trench” and she sneers back ”The roses are dead/ And the violets are too.”

It's a slow, jazzy number with blues overtones, driven on sprinkly piano and trumpet, the two singers doing a great job communicating the idea of a couple really sick of the worst side of each other, and ready to split up. Gayle then takes the next song solo, for the slow, moody “Old Boyfriends”, with a country lilt and again piano backed, electric piano I think or maybe celeste, not sure. You can almost hear the cracks appearing in her heart as she sings ”They look you up/ When they're in town/ To see if they can / Still burn you down” while there's some lovely reflective electric guitar sliding in and out of the tune too. But the album's highlight comes next, and it's Waits in his best Blue Valentines mood, in fact this song could have been on that album. “Broken Bicycles” draws a great but not obvious parallel between a lover and a bicycle rusting in a garden yard. ”Broken bicycles” sings Waits, ”Old busted chains/ Rusted handlebars out in the rain/ Somebody must have an orphanage for/ These things that nobody wants anymore.” Superb.

The song is driven on an almost classical piano line, slow and evocative with Waits's vocal soft and close to muttered, a great sadness hanging around it as he sighs ”Summer is gone/ But my love will remain/ Like old broken bicycles/ Out in the rain.” An absolutely beautiful song, a masterpiece both of unexpected imagery and heart-wrenching emotion, and definitely the highlight of this album for me. Also the point at which, rather unfortunately, it begins for me to dip.

“I Beg Your Pardon” is another piano ballad, based I feel something along the lines of “Cinny's waltz” with a certain cinematic feel to it, Alcivar's strings really adding another layer to it as Waits sings ”You are the landscape of my dreams” but it's when “Little Boy Blue” begins that I start to lose a little interest and from here on it's much lower par than it should have been. I have nothing but good things to say about the first half of the album, but with a few exceptions it's hard to find much complimentary to say about the closing half. I guess you could make the case that the first half is the “old “ Tom Waits we heard on albums like Closing Time, Foreign Affairs and Blue Valentine, whereas what surfaces on the second half is a little more experimental, a bit more avant-garde jazz, the kind of ideas he would bring into his next proper album.

He met Kathleen during the recording of this album, but I don't know if she helped him or gave him any ideas on it, but if so then you could possibly attribute the sudden change here to her influence. With a bouncy, finger-clickin' bass line that harks a little back to “Romeo is Bleeding”, “Little Boy Blue” is driven on hard-edged organ from Ronnie Barron, with Waits's vocal again low-key, the sort of song a man sings with his collar turned up and with his hat down over his eyes. His penchant for plundering nursery rhyme really comes into its own here as he sings ”Little Boy Blue/ Come blow your horn/ Dish ran away with the spoon” and later sings of Bo Peep and other childhood favourites. The song ends on a rather frenetic organ solo and piles into “Instrumental Montage (The Tango/Circus Girl)” with the first part being, not surprisingly given the title, a tango on the piano with some wild saxophone being added by the returning Gene Cipriano, a soft little piano run then taking it into a carnival waltz which would later resurface on Frank's Wild Years, five years later.

“You Can't Unring a Bell” is backed by some pretty amazing thunderous percussion and some spooky guitar, with Waits often speaking the lyric like a monologue, while Crystal Gayle returns to accompany him on what is essentially the title track. I feel the melody on “This One's From the Heart” sails very close to that from “Picking Up After You”, and perhaps that's intentional, as it's the reconciliation song which mirrors the trouble in that song, or at least the hope that it can be sorted out. Gayle is wonderful on this, and it's not hard to see why she is regarded as one of country's first ladies. I'm not sure what the link is or how they came to be working together, but it's a pity this was the only time they did, as they really are one hell of a team. Perhaps Kathleen put her foot down after they were married?

Like much on this album, it's a slow, romantic, moody ballad, and it's followed by another, the last vocal track, which oddly enough, but given the conclusion of the film, is sung by Gayle solo as she forgives her lover and asks to be reunited with him in “Take Me Home”. It's a short song, just over a minute and a half, and with a very simple lyric: ”Take me home/ You silly boy/ Cos I'm still in love/ With you.” We end then on a glockenspiel instrumental as “Presents” revisits the melody of the previous song, a mere minute of music but quite effective. Interesting point for you trivia fans: it's played by Joe Porcaro, father of Toto brothers Jeff, Mike and Steve. Nice low-key ending, though with all respect to Joe, I'm not entirely sure how essential it was to run the same melody twice.

TRACK LISTING

1. Opening Montage (Tom's Piano Intro/Once Upon a Town/The Wages of Love)
2. Is There Any Way Out of This Dream?
3. Picking Up After You
4. Old Boyfriends
5. Broken Bicycles
6. I Beg Your Pardon
7. Instrumental Montage (The Tango/Circus Girl)
8. Little Boy Blue
9. You Can't Unring a Bell
10. This One's From the Heart
11. Take Me Home
12. Presents

As film soundtracks go, this is one of the best I've heard that has been all composed by the one musician, and which is not all instrumental. It's hard to capture the feel of a movie like this, and even though “One From the Heart” is, as I recall, a very basic and boring movie with a predictable ending, perhaps that's a good reason for Waits to have scored it. Not that it's predictable, but that it deals at its heart with human relationships and the darker side of emotions, and shows that the world is not a fairytale. There are songs here which deserve to go down as Waits classics, and you don't often say that about film soundtracks, or I don't anyway.

In addition, being the backdrop for that fateful meeting with the woman he would eventually marry and who would become his muse for, well, the rest of his life, this album holds a special place in the discography of Tom Waits. It may not be perfect, and it may be the soundtrack to a film I would advise nobody to watch, but it truly does in fact live up to its name. It's also a great chance to see Waits duet, which happens so rarely, and sure if you're a fan of Crystal Gayle (and who isn't) then there's something for you here too.

Rating: 9.5/10
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Old 11-23-2021, 11:36 AM   #29 (permalink)
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If you thought, at this point, that you knew and had a fairly decent handle on the music of Tom Waits, well what happened next should have shown you the danger of adding up immature roosters before they have broken out of the shell. Although the next album Waits would release had some recognisable influences yet from his previous body of work, this is pretty much where he entered the studio more as a scientist than a musician, if you like. That's a very bad analogy, but what I mean is that from here on in Waits experimented more with his music. He started trying out odd rhythms, strange singing patterns, weird lyrics and brought in instruments he had previously never used, like shaker, African talking drum, bagpipes and glass harmonica. In short, it was a total seachange for the man, and must have taken his fans by surprise when it originally hit.

The album also marks the end of a long partnership, as Waits decided to dispense with the services of producer Bones Howe, taking the controls of the mixing desk and sitting in the director's chair himself, solidifying his grip over his music. This is the first album he self-produced, and once he got the hang of and the taste for it, there was no going back. Although he had by this time met Kathleen Brennan, and her tastes would inform much of his music from here on in, she has no actual input into this album and only co-wrote one song on the next one. Waits had, and has, always been a man to jealously guard the creation of his music, treating it like his baby, as he would later reveal on the collection of unused songs released on triple CD in 2006. But here is where you can see the effects of Captain Beefheart (apparently) to whose music Brennan introduced him, and which obviously impacted upon him strongly.

Swordfishtrombones (1983)

It had been three years since Waits had been in the studio to record his own music, and it certainly shows, in a fresh, powerful, often disturbing and also beautiful collection of songs that run the gamut from zany to heartbreakingly sad. As if making a conscious decision to be “less mainstream”, although Waits wouldn't know the mainstream if he fell into it and drowned, the album kicks off with “Underground”, a stomping, swaggering almost muted sound which sounds like trombone or tuba but seems like it may be a bass marimba. Whatever, it's not only the music that is weirdly out of the ordinary here: Waits growls the vocal with a kind of almost barking cadence, chomping down on each word sharply, like someone saying “I – told – you – once...” The song itself seems to be about maybe the city after dark, as he sings ”They're alive, they're awake/ While the rest of the world is asleep” and may refer back to the many unfortunate and pathetic characters who people albums such as The Heart of Saturday Night and Small Change. It may not; it's a strange song.

Things get weirder then with “Shore Leave”, percussion provided by Waits hitting a chair off the floor, seriously, and a strange kind of moaning, screeching sound with timpani and other odd instruments meshing with guitar, marimba and trombone, much of the vocal spoken sotto-voce by Waits. It details the exploits of a sailor, far from home, as he tries to fill up the time before he has to go back to his ship. The chorus is the only sung part, in a sort of hoarse whisper. I was pacing myself he says ”Tryin' to make it all last/ Tryin' to squeeze all the life/ Out of a lousy two day pass.” It's followed by an instrumental as Waits gets behind the Hammond and racks out a spooky, chilling carnival-like tune that goes by the name of “Dave the Butcher”, then, being Waits, he changes tack completely with one of his soft aching ballads as he pays tribute to the town in which Kathleen was born, “Johnsburg, Illinois.”

It's a pained, emotional vocal which has him almost hoarse with quiet passion, and accompanied only by piano, which he plays himself, and bass. It's a very short song, only a minute and a half, but the amount of love that's poured into its run is truly exceptional. The basic melody would later be revisited in part on another song further along on the album. Then, as if to say BOO! He launches into “Sixteen Shells From a Thirty-ought-six”, with heavy, choppy electric guitar and thumping percussion, the vocal raw and ragged, the song structure virtually nonexistent, just verse following verse. There's a great beat to it though, lots of percussion and bells. One thing that doesn't, and probably never will change in Waits's music though is the characters who populate it, and they're all here, from the shore leavetaking sailor to the gin-soaked boy in the song of the same name and the dead soldier in “Soldier's Things”, not to mention Frank making a pre-appearance before the album which would bear his name in “Frank's Wild Years”. Up next though is a slow, morose ballad driven on piano with a strained, almost defeated vocal in “Town With No Cheer”. This is also the first time Waits uses bagpipes, through they're only used in the short intro.

This album also marks the end of the “short” Waits albums, as I think I mentioned previously. With fifteen tracks, this is a far cry from any of his older albums, most of which had seven or eight tracks. This is a format he would continue throughout his career; whether it was just that he was writing more and wanted to use more, or he wanted to give better value to his fans, or even that he didn't even realise he was doing it, from this on in Waits albums would always give great bang for buck, few less than twelve tracks in length. There's a bit of a return to the old form for “In the Neighborhood”, a song of claustrophobia and hopelessness, a feeling of being trapped in a one-horse town (a theme Waits used quite a lot). The tone is doleful, almost funeral as he utilises a lot of trombone and slow percussion, baritone horn and organ.

Another instrumental in “Just Another Sucker On the Vine”, which he plays almost entirely solo on the harmonium, with some assistance from trumpet and then we're into “Frank's Wild Years”, which I have written about already. Carried on the somewhat madcap organ of Ronnie Barron, it features Waits basically talking the lyric, almost in a bored monotone as he tells the story of Frank who, fed up with his life, burns his house to the ground and heads off for a new life. This would, as I've intimated, lead to a whole album based on a play Waits would write with Kathleen. It, and all the succeeding tracks, are short, some less than three minutes long, and the next one up is the title, with just the “s” removed. “Swordfishtrombone” runs on a marimba and conga rhythm, with nothing else but bass supporting the tune, while the much shorter “Down, Down, Down” has the full band, and is a faster, more frenetic affair with a jazzy, syncopated beat and Waits returning to the somewhat harsher vocal of “Sixteen Shells”.

After that we slow everything down for another piano ballad, and again I've featured “Soldier's Things” in detail before, so I'll just say it's the gut-wrenching aftermath of a funeral, as the soldier's widow (we assume) tries to make some cash by selling off his personal effects. It's totally heartbreaking, and if you want to read more about it check here http://www.musicbanter.com/members-j...ml#post1206215. It has, as I mentioned above, something of the melody of "Johnsburg, Illinois", in it. That leaves us with three tracks to go, all short, and “Gin Soaked Boy” comes a little towards the idea of “Sixteen Shells” again with a hard grinding guitar and thumping percussion, another growled vocal with a lot of power in it, while “Trouble's Braids” recalls the basic rhythm of “Red Shoes By the Drugstore” with another muttered vocal and virtually no instruments bar drums and bass. We end then on one more instrumental, with no less than four glass harmonicas as “Rainbirds” ends a pretty stunning album.

TRACK LISTING

1. Underground
2. Shore Leave
3. Dave the Butcher
4. Johnsburg, Illinois
5. Sixteen Shells From a Thirty-ought-six
6. Town With No Cheer
7. In the Neighborhood
8. Just Another Sucker On the Vine
9. Frank's Wild Years
10. Swordfishtrombone
11. Down, Down, Down
12. Soldier's Things
13. Gin Soaked Boy
14. Trouble's Braids
15. Rainbirds

The variety on this album is pretty staggering, even given the sort of thing Waits had given us up to now. This is a man almost reborn, stretching his musical muscles and testing the limits of his talent and creativity. There aren't too many other artists who would get away with some of the tracks here and not lose some of their fans, or at least cause some puzzled looks. But at this point we've kind of learned to expect the unexpected with Tom Waits, and this is just the beginning. Next time out he would venture further into the unknown, like a man on a spacewalk who suddenly considers letting go and just floating into the vast mystery of space, taking us all with him.

Rating: 9.7/10
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Old 12-04-2021, 03:32 PM   #30 (permalink)
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Having branched out on the previous album Waits continued to explore the limits of his music, almost inventing instruments and shunning the popular digital electronic recording process. As he said himself, “If I want a particular sound I'd rather get it by going into the bathroom and hitting the door really hard with a piece of two by four.” No samples for our Tom! Although he did, technically, use samples in the recording of this, his eighth album, when he used an old-style cassette recorder to capture the sounds of the street - traffic, people walking, dogs barking etc - in order to infuse this new album with a feeling of being right down there among the people. His second album without Bones Howe and the continuation, in many ways, of Swordfishtrombones, this album is, if possible, even weirder and in places even more beautiful.


Rain Dogs (1985)

A double album, this would be, apart from Nighthawks at the Diner, Waits's longest yet, clocking in at almost fifty-four minutes and with a total of nineteen tracks. He explores many different genres in it, and it opens with a boppy cousin of “Underground” melding with “Shore Leave” as “Singapore” kicks right out of the traps. Waits's vocal is again that hoarse, ragged whisper we've started to become used to, the song driven on thick double bass and powerful percussion. There are some great lines in it, such as ”In the land of the blind/ The one-eyed man is king” and ”Every witness turns to steam/ They all become Italian dreams.” Next it's a slow, almost funereal tune with timpani and marimba in “Clap Hands”, Waits more restrained on the vocal here, then it's a polka as he brings in accordion for “Cemetery Polka”, with the hilarious line ”We must find out where the money is/ Get it now before he loses his mind!”

Typical of Waits, of course, after all this madness and experimentation he's back to simple acoustic guitar for “Jockey Full of Bourbon”, percussion again playing a big part in the song, with a kind of muttered vocal from Waits before he comes alive for “Tango Till They're Sore”, one of the first songs of his I ever heard - and I hated it - but I can see his genius now. He sings like a man drunk, reeling all over the place as he sings ”Put my clarinet beneath your bed/ Till I get back in town”. The discordant piano from “The Piano Has Been Drinking” is back, as he weaves expertly in and out of the tune, fat trombone adding a real New Orleans touch, delivered by the perfectly-named Bob Funk. He kicks into full gear then for the manic “Big Black Mariah”, featuring guitar from the legendary Keith Richards. This melody and vocal style, at least the beginning, foreshadows the later “Earth Died Screaming” on his Bone Machine album. There's a lot of blues and swing in this, and it rocks along nicely.

Things slow down then for a few tracks, as “Diamonds and Gold” is a low-key short track with banjo from Robert Musso, the return of the marimbas and a sort of almost slurred vocal, tracing the basic melody of “Hushabye Mountain” before Waits interprets the folk standard “Tom Dooley” in his own inimitable way as “Hang Down Your Head” is his first collaboration with his wife, Kathleen Brennan. It actually has a nice country-ish electric guitar from Marc Ribot and pump organ from Waits himself. Good solo from Ribot, then we're into one of the standouts with “Time”, the first real ballad on the album. Again it's a low-key, almost disinterested vocal from Waits, lovely sad accordion as William Shimmel reprises his role from “Cemetery Polka”, soft strummed guitar from Waits.

Shimmel remains and opens the title track, which is then taken by Ribot with some uptempo guitar, mournful trombone from Funk and those marimbas again. The first of two instrumentals follows as the quite frenetic “Midtown” is driven by the Uptown Horns with a kind of sixties cop-show theme, dashing all over the place and bringing us into another standout, “9th and Hennepin”. Again I've written extensively about this song, but in case you haven't read that, it's a spoken word piece backed by clarinet, marimba and piano. Some incredible lines in the lyric: ”I'm lost in the window/ I hide in the stairway/ And I hang in the curtain/ And I sleep in your hat.” Banjo and percussion drive “Gun Street Girl”, very folk-oriented; one of the lines is ”Bangin' on a table/ With an old tin cup” and sure knowing Waits, maybe they are!

“Union Square” hits the tempo back up then, with a raw, manic vocal from Waits in a sort of jazzy rocker, Keith Richards making another appearance, then after that Waits turns his attention to country with his first pure country song, “Blind love”, and it could certainly hold its own among the likes of Haggard and Nelson. More guitar from Richards, who also adds backing vocals to this gem, and some superb violin from Ross Levinson. We're back then in Blue Valentine territory for “Walking Spanish”, and a song made famous by Rod Stewart is another standout in “Downtown Train”. If you've only heard Rod's version then you need to hear the original. That's all I'll say.

The second, and final instrumental is barely a minute long and features just harmonium, sax and drums as “Bride of Rain Dog” reprises some of the melody of the title track, messed about in the lovingly chaotic way Waits loves to do, then we end on “Anywhere I Lay My Head”, as the Uptown Horns return to finish us off on a gospel-inspired hunk of craziness as Waits really goes for it on the vocal. Testify, brother! Testify!

TRACK LISTING

1. Singapore
2. Clap Hands
3. Cemetery Polka
4. Jockey Full of Bourbon
5. Tango Till They're Sore
6. Big Black Mariah
7. Diamonds and Gold
8. Hang Down Your Head
9. Time
10. Rain Dogs
11. Midtown
12. 9th and Hennepin
13. Gun Street Girl
14. Union Square
15. Blind Love
16. Walking Spanish
17. Downtown Train
18. Bride of Rain Dog
19. Anywhere I Lay My Head

Rarely have I listened to an album with so many different styles, genres and ideas mixed together which still managed to be a cohesive whole and come out triumphantly on top. With this album, once and for all Waits proved that he could not be boxed, labelled, categorised or indeed equalled. A man with whom, quite literally, you did not know what was coming next, he would forever surprise, confound and delight. With almost impish glee, he would change his style, then change it back, do something new, look back to his past, subvert genres and even invent new ones as he continued his crusade to be something utterly different, indefinable and absolutely magnificent.

At this point, it seemed the time might have arrived to declare a new genre of music: Tom Waits.

Rating: 9.9/10
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