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Old 10-27-2021, 10:45 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Trollheart's Album Discography Reviews: Tom Waits

This is one of the few discogs I will be working through chronologically, as I want to catalogue the artist's pretty interesting evolution through his long career.

Thomas Alan “Tom” Waits is a native of California. He was born there and he still lives there, though of course his musical career and life have taken him far and wide over nearly forty-five years. I'm not going to write a bio of him: if you've never heard him the chances are you've heard his songs sung by someone else, but if you really want to read about him, here :Tom Waits - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Without ever a single hit to his name, and though his albums are revered in many circles they are hardly what you'd call massive sellers, Waits has charted a course through music which has seen him earn the admiration of everyone from Springsteen to Crystal Gayle and The Eagles to Rod Stewart. Many people have had hit singles with his music, and it's been featured on both the big and small screen. Having recently celebrated his sixty-sixth birthday, he's still going strong and released an album in 2013, which surely is not the last we'll hear from him. His style is varied: he uses elements of blues, folk, jazz, vaudeville, island music, soul and rock, as well as other, less recognised music forms, and the number of instruments he employs is hard to determine, as he tends to often make his own, like banging chair legs on the floor or hitting pots and pans together.

But though he has wandered happily through such areas as experimental, jazz and folk music, Waits's music career began in a much more sedate manner, as his debut album, a quiet, understated affair that even then hinted at greatness to come, shows us. And this, of course, is where we begin our descent into the often madcap, exilhirating, sometimes frightening and frequently baffling, but always wonderful world of Tom Waits.


Closing Time (1973)

With characteristic laconic wit, Waits chooses words associated with endings for his beginning, and indeed there is also there the connotations linked with the pub and the tavern, which would become his shelter and his keeper for several years as he spiralled into an ever-worsening descent into alcoholism and substance abuse. There is nothing of the experimental work that would colour his later material here, but then, he was only twenty-four, and had yet to discover all the darkness the world had to offer. Even so, this doesn't read as an album written by a wide-eyed optimist or someone with their head in the clouds. As we'll see, Waits's feet were always firmly planted on the ground, if perhaps too often swinging from a barstool.

Counting in the song, and indeed marking the moment when, to all intents and purposes, his recording career began, its “One, two, three, four” as a song The Eagles would filch for their On the Border album, a situation of Waits would later growl “The Eagles ain't country. There's no shit on their boots!” kicks the album off. A slow, lazy piano which would become something of Waits's trademark sound takes “Ol' 55” in, and it is very country in feel and shape. You can see why Frey and Henley wanted it. But even as this could be seen as an ode to the car, (I'm not sure which one but I'm sure Big3 or some American will enlighten me) it is in fact used merely as a metaphor for escape, perhaps unwilling escape. When Waits sings ”Just a-wishin' I had stayed a little longer” you get the feeling he would rather have been back with his lover than riding away in his car, but there's a feeling of inevitability about it, a sense that all things come to an end, and when that happens, it's good to have a means of escape, perhaps even a getaway car.

It's a low-key, downbeat opening to the album, and it doesn't get much more upbeat really for much of it. Even at that, it's a bitterly lovely song as he growls ”The sun's comin' up/ I'm ridin' with Lady Luck/ Freeway cars and trucks.” There are some nice touches on the guitar but mostly it's very much a piano driven song, though I think that may be a celeste or a harmonium on the chorus; certainly both are used on the album. Another slow, bitter ballad then in “I Hope That I Don't Fall in Love With You”, this time an acoustic guitar song, as Waits fears falling for a woman he has met, knowing the pitfalls of romance. ”Had a beer and now I hear/ You callin' out for me” he drawls as " I wonder if I should offer you a chair?” It's the first example of a song that Waits would use to twist and warp the idea of a ballad, making love a dirty word and something to be avoided. In the end though, he capitulates as he sighs ”I think that I just/ Fell in love with you.” The song also contains the title of the album, although it does finish with a song so titled, an instrumental.

The first time the album takes an upswing it kicks off on the slow, lazy bass of Bill Plummer, then the piano evokes a kind of drunken stagger as swaggering trumpet from Delbert Bennett keeps its lonely vigil. “Virginia Avenue” is one of a number of songs which would reference local areas and places Waits knew of, frequented or visited, enshrining them forever in his music. Fun fact: this song also appears on The Early Years Vol 1 where it is slightly different. Where he sings ”What's a poor boy to do?” the original line is ”What's a poor sailor to do?” Thought you'd like to know. I'll remind you when we get to that album's review. Interesting look forward to the future too when he sings ”Blues I leave behind me/ Catchin' up on me.”

His first song not to include the title in the lyric, “Old Shoes (And Picture Postcards)” is also one of a selection of titles which would have footnotes in parentheses. A jaunty but yet slow acoustic guitar ballad with a lot of folk in it, it relates the decision to leave someone after what would appear to have been a long relationship. He sings ”So long, farewell/ The road calls me dear/ And your tears cannot bind me anymore.” One of the strengths of this album is that none of the songs are too long. Most come in around the three-minute mark, with one or two edging over four and one almost five, but that's the longest. It's just enough time to appreciate the song, let it sink in before it vanishes like an echo in your brain. Waits was, and is, a master of the art of using brevity. You'll find no ten-minute compositions in his music.

Another feature of his songs is that they usually concern or are built around characters, characters who are inevitably flawed. The man who leaves his clingy lover in the above song, the guy who walks along Virginia Avenue looking for a bar and of course the fellow who hops into his “Ol' 55” and hightails it out of town. These characters and personages make his songs more real somehow, and for me at any rate have enabled them to speak to me; not that I know anything about being drunk and wandering the streets at 3am (!), but the very flaws of his characters, their shortcomings is in my view what makes them real, and relatable, and that much more powerful for being pathetic. We can identify with them. We know them, or someone like them. Perhaps we are, or were, them. But we see through their eyes and hear through their ears, and the world we see is a different one than our own eyes show us. It's a damp, squalid, dark, threatening and unforgiving one, where every shadow could contain an attacker, or someone wanting to rob us of our bottle, and every friend must be searched for a knife, just in case. The milk of human kindness has soured for these people, if it was ever fresh, and as we journey on with them through Waits's albums we will get to know the world they inhabit.

Another thing Waits would often do is build his songs around nursery rhymes, or incorporate parts of them in the lyric, as here, when “Midnight Lullaby” begins with the words ”Sing a song of sixpence/ A pocket full of rye”. Acoustic piano is attended by trumpet as the song moves along on a nice, swaying sort of rhythm, and Waits muses ”When you are dreaming/ You see for miles and miles.” The song ends with a piano rendition of “Hush Little Baby”, another nod to the world of children's stories and rhymes, appropriate as this appears to concern him talking to his child.

I don't want to rag on him on his first outing, but for me this is where the album's quality begins to dip slightly. I do like “Martha”, but I feel the piano is a little harsh here, though the cello from Jesse Ehrlich in the chorus certainly saves the song. Still, I regard it as one of the weaker tracks on the album, despite the reflective nature of the song as a guy telephones his old lover out of the blue to recall the old times. It also ends badly, I feel. “Rosie” then is another piano-driven track, though the piano is much softer and gentler this time. The melody is a little reminiscent of “Virginia Avenue” and returns to the Country feel of “Ol' 55” with some fine pedal steel from Peter Klimes, and the subject matter is somewhat similar, then what I would call a lower grade trio of songs comes to a shuddering end with “Lonely”.

Possibly, in my estimation, one of Waits's worst early songs, it's again driven by piano, but the vocal this time I find very harsh, and the lyric mostly consists of the title. It just seems like something that, were there other tracks considered for and dropped from the album, should have joined them. I really don't like this song, and it's seldom I would skip any Waits song but I often do jump over this one. Luckily the album then rallies strongly, as if eager to throw off the somewhat cloying influence of the last three tracks, as “Ice Cream Man” is only the second upbeat track, where Waits first reveals his wicked sense of humour. Sexual innuendo follows sexual innuendo as he smirks ”Got a big stick momma/ That'll blow your mind” and goes on to assure the lady ”When you're tired and you're hungry/ And you want something cool/ Got something better than a swimmin' pool!” There's a boppy, jazzy, almost big band rhythm driven by some fine basswork and soaring guitar. He even starts and ends the song with the sound of an ice cream van's chimes! Oh Waits, you devil!

And we're back on track. “Little Trip to Heaven (On the Wings of Your Love)” is a fine laidback ballad with smooth trumpet and flowing piano, its melody recalling in part “Midnight Lullaby”, Bennet really excelling here on the brass. “Grapefruit Moon” is the final vocal track, piano again taking centre stage with some very prominent bass, some of the runs on the piano again nodding back to “Virginia Avenue”, and indeed presaging the later “On the Nickel”, and Ehrlich returns to add some lovely cello. Waits echoes the thoughts of us all on certain songs when he sings ”Every time I hear that melody/ Something breaks inside” before a beautiful duet between piano and cello sets the seal on a sumptuous almost-closer. We end then on the title track, and only instrumental, the only words being a muttered “This is for posterity” from Waits at the beginning. The tune is taken by a lazy, almost reflective piano and some lovely harmonica, taking us out in fine style and bringing the album to a soft and relaxing close.

TRACK LISTING

1. Ol' 55
2. I Hope That I Don't Fall in Love With You
3. Virginia Avenue
4. Old Shoes (And Picture Postcards)
5. Midnight Lullaby
6. Martha
7. Rosie
8. Lonely
9. Ice Cream Man
10. Little Trip to Heaven (On the Wings of Your Love)
11. Grapefruit Moon
12. Closing Time

Some debut albums set the charts on fire, some receive critical acclaim, and some just vanish like ripples in a pond. But still waters run deep, and though this initial effort from Tom Waits did not exactly make headline news across the world and introduce a star, he had made his mark quietly and almost unobtrusively, and while the world may not have been watching and listening, the music fraternity was. As mentioned, The Eagles, making their name at this time, were impressed enough by the new songwriter to cover one of his songs, and later Bette Midler herself would cover “Martha”, while Meat Loaf would put a rendition of the same song on his 1995 album.

As time went on, Waits became the go-to guy, the musician's musician, and his refusal to go with the flow, his willingness, even eagerness to buck trends - he once said “I slept through the sixties” - would mark him as both a maverick and a stone cold music genius, as well as often one of the only honest musicians left in a world of synthpop, X-Factor and sell-outs. His trademark gravelly voice was as yet still to develop, and would only really come into its own on his third album, Small Change, when he would really come to the attention of everyone. Taken as an album in its own right, this is a pleasant, if often bitter, country/folk outing, with some extremely clever at time lyrics. But beyond that, it was setting down a marker, a new singer/songwriter honing his considerable talent and placing his bet down on the table, a bet that would pretty much always reap him large and profitable dividends, at least musically if not always financially.

“Closing time” made one simple but undeniable statement: Tom Waits had arrived. If the world didn't get it, at that time, hell, that was the world's problem. It would, soon enough.

Rating: 8.2/10
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Old 10-27-2021, 11:42 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Hell yeah.

Get ready for some Nea hate!
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Old 10-27-2021, 11:57 AM   #3 (permalink)
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An 8.2 for closing time? Good god, what will the Top 3 albums get?!
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Old 10-27-2021, 01:19 PM   #4 (permalink)
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I have a real sneaking admiration for his debut. Sure, it's not the greatest but there are some excellent songs on there. Doesn't hold a candle of course to Rain Dogs, Small Change, Blue Valentines or Heartattack and Vine, but I still love it. The only albums likely to score low I would think would be some of the later ones like Black Rider (really don't like that), Blood Money and Alice maybe, but everything has its redemption factor. Yeah, even Black Rider. I think.

As for Nea, if he comes in here complaining about Waits then my opinion of him will dip even lower than that which I have for Abacab. If you're not into an artist, stay the **** out the thread. Would I go into a thread for one of his favourite bands I don't like and start spouting about why I didn't like the artist?
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Old 10-27-2021, 07:33 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Many of Waits's albums would follow themes, though only one to my knowledge is an actual concept album, and his second one certainly does bring together songs that are linked with a common thread, this being travelling, movement, comings and goings, hellos and farewells. It's a much higher tempo, upbeat affair in general than Closing Time is, and it shows him stretching his musical muscles as his songwriting develops beyond the mostly lovelorn ballads of the debut.

The Heart of Saturday Night (1974)

This album would also mark the beginning of a relationship that would flourish throughout most of Waits's career, that of his friendship with producer Bones Howe, who would helm almost all of his albums from here on in. Right away we're presented with a louder, rougher, more rowdy Waits than has been present on the debut. The man who peeked through slightly in “Ice Cream Man” now comes strutting to the fore as we open on “New Coat of Paint”, with an exuberant piano and a rolling melody, the voice of a man who's ready for a night on the town. ”You wear a dress” he tells his lady, ”I'll wear a tie/ We'll laugh at that old bloodshot moon/ In that burgundy sky.” Much of the introspection of Closing Time is left behind now as Waits puts on his best duds and steps out on the town with his girl, smirking ”Fishin' for a good time/ Starts with throwin' in your line.” If this was anyone else, you might say that he'd learned the lessons from the mostly positive reception of his debut, but its low sales, and had decided to give people something to dance to, or tap their fingers to, a more commercial Waits. But then, this is Tom Waits, and he don't give a shit what you think or who you are. Perhaps underlining this, the next track is a slow moody ballad, as “San Diego Serenade”, later covered by Nanci Griffith, returns us to the style of the debut. Again piano led, it features a beautiful string section accompaniment that really lifts the song to another level, and you can hear the regret in his voice as he sings ”Never saw your heart/ Till someone tried to steal it away/ Never saw your tears/ Till they rolled down your face.”

And then we're off again with “Semi Suite” (another word play which would become his trademark) as he drawls the tale of a truck driver on the road, and the woman he leaves behind to wait for him. Strongly driven by smoky trumpet and bass, this song trips along in a very mid-paced jazz/blues vein, the sort of song you could definitely see Waits playing in a smoke-choked bar as patrons ignore him and glasses clink amid conversation. Some fine piano as ever sprinkled through the tune, and really effective double bass from Jim Hughart adds to the small-town-jazz-club-after-hours feel of the song. Although written from the perspective of the woman, the song could be taken as an anthem for truckers, as Waits sings ”He's a truck driving man/ Stoppin' when he can.”

One of the standouts for me is next, another ballad as Waits leaves everything behind in “Shiver Me Timbers” to go to sea, possibly inspired by his time spent with the Coastguard. Soft violin accompanies him as he moans ”The fog's liftin'/ Sand's shiftin'/ And I'm driftin' on by” and there's a lovely midsection on acoustic guitar. Following this beautiful creation we have a swinging blues tune in “Diamonds On My Windshield”, pulled along by a wonderful double bass and some skittering percussion, Waits almost performing a rap of sorts, very jazzy. The rhythm of the vocal really comes into its own when he sings ”Eights goes east/ fives goes north/ Merging nexus, back and forth”. It's a short song, an ode to driving home in the rain, an example of the sort of minimalist song he would come back to time and again, one on his next album being nothing more than percussion, another where he is accompanied by a solo lonely wailing sax.

A simple acoustic guitar then ushers in the first of two semi-title tracks. ”(Looking for) The Heart of Saturday Night” trips along nicely in a laconic manner, folky and acoustic and very catchy. Double bass again plays a prominent part in this song, then we kick the tempo back up for the first time since the opener with “Fumblin' With the Blues”, an upbeat bopper with a lot of jazz and swing in it. The piano comes back into its own here, and some fine saxophone adds its voice, as does electric piano. It's a song that's kind of hard to sit still to, and Waits's voice is on fine form here. He perhaps begins to look at his drinking habit here as he admits ”I'm a pool-shootin' shimmy shyster/ Shakin' my head/ When I should be livin' clean instead.” Taking the tempo down then for “Please call me baby”, a lovely little bluesy piano tune as Waits tries to win back his lover after an argument, and frames his desire in a blatant lie about being concerned about her health: I don't want you catchin'/ Your death of cold/ Out walkin' in the rain” but defends his actions rather pathetically and self-deprecatingly when he sings ”If I exorcise my devils/ My angels may leave too.” Lovely strings section employed here too.

From this on it's pretty much slow material and moodier pieces as we head into “Depot, Depot” riding on a thick trumpet line and some smoky sax, and a repeat in the lyric of a line from “Virginia Avenue” as he asks ”Now, tell me, what a poor boy to do?” while “Drunk On the Moon” (is it coincidence, I wonder, that his previous album also had a song about the moon as the second-last track?) continues this loose theme, as ”Some Bonneville is screamin'/ Its way wilder down the street” and Waits realises ”I've hocked all my yesterdays/ Don't try to change my tune.” Great sax solo here from Tom Scott which ushers in a total change of rhythm as the double bass takes the tune and ramps up the tempo, swinging and strutting along till the piano brings it all back down to earth for the concluding section. We end then on the other song with the title in it, “The Ghosts of Saturday Night”, with an almost narrated vocal backed by rippling piano, kind of an outro to the album, or an epilogue. Here Waits uses a device he would return to regularly, waitresses and restaurants, as he speaks of a woman with ”Maxwell House eyes/ With marmalade thighs /And scrambled yellow hair” and of eating ”Hash browns, hash browns/ You know I can't be late.” The music is almost incidental, a soft backing for his recounting of the late night folks and what they do when we're all in bed, the ghosts of Saturday night.

TRACK LISTING

1. New Coat of Paint
2. San Diego Serenade
3. Semi Suite
4. Shiver Me Timbers
5. Diamonds On My Windshield
6. (Looking for) The Heart of Saturday Night
7. Fumblin' With the Blues
8. Depot, Depot
9. Please Call Me Baby
10. Drunk On the Moon
11. The Ghosts of Saturday Night (After Hours at Napoleone's Pizza House)

You can definitely see the effect his drinking was having on Waits's songwriting here. While it's improving in leaps and bounds from the songs on his debut, it's also more concerned with characters who weave from one dark alley to the next in search of an after-hours drinking hole or club they can stagger into. The problems of relationships are explored too and an abiding love for cars and driving, and here too Waits expands on his respect for and love of jazz and blues, dialling back the folky influences and dropping much of the country feel too.

Allover, it's a much more accomplished and well-rounded album, and points the way to the one which would bring him to international notice, though that is yet one album away. The things he sings of are not esoteric: they are the visceral and raw, real and relatable, and they pull us into his dark, murky world, showing us what life is like on the bad side of town. This would continue to be the path he would tread throughout his next few albums, always showing us the darker side of life, shining his torch like some spectral night watchman and often throwing up darker and more scary shadows than we could ever possibly imagine. There is, however, great tenderness to be found in his songs too, and this would occasionally leak through perhaps despite his best efforts to remain gritty and hard-bitten.

But if you had decided to take that trip through the dark halls of humanity with him, you had better be prepared, because the journey had just begun.

Rating: 8.8/10
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Old 10-27-2021, 07:57 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Heart of Saturday Night was my first Waits album so it'll always have a place in my heart. I have grown to love other albums more over the years but I'm a f*cking sucker for a drunken ballad like "Please Call Me Baby". I'll sing that song to an empty bar drunk on mojitos given the chance.
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Old 10-27-2021, 10:20 PM   #7 (permalink)
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This one was a great album. The biggest accomplishment on this album is moving away from the James Taylor cover act. Great album. My top 3 here would have to be:

1. New Coat of Paint
5. Diamonds On My Windshield
10. Drunk On the Moon

An 8.8. You're a generous man, Troll.
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Old 10-28-2021, 06:12 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Exo View Post
Heart of Saturday Night was my first Waits album so it'll always have a place in my heart. I have grown to love other albums more over the years but I'm a f*cking sucker for a drunken ballad like "Please Call Me Baby". I'll sing that song to an empty bar drunk on mojitos given the chance.
My first was the next one, Small Change, and it just blew my ****ing mind. I love that album so much. Next up was Rain Dogs which almost, but not quite, put Small Change in the shade, and after that I just kept going. But I love this album. As you say, it could almost paraphrase Nick Cave's album and be called Drunken Ballads, and it sort of leads into Nighthawks in a way with its stumbling yet connected narrative generally concerning a drunk on his way home, either literally or metaphorically. I bet it's great to listen to wasted.

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Originally Posted by TheBig3 View Post
This one was a great album. The biggest accomplishment on this album is moving away from the James Taylor cover act. Great album. My top 3 here would have to be:

1. New Coat of Paint
5. Diamonds On My Windshield
10. Drunk On the Moon

An 8.8. You're a generous man, Troll.
I think I'd go for

1. Shiver Me Timbers
2. New Coat of Paint
3. Drunk on the Moon

The ratings given are generally high with Waits for me. Unless I have a real problem with an album I usually don't score below 7, a 5 or below is a lost cause. I mean, when we get to The Black Rider I don't know, I'm just sayin', but up to then you can expect pretty consistently high ratings. These are only rated in terms of being as it were within the Waits universe, so it's not as if I were to put say - I don't know - Black Sabbath up against Closing Time, would they be rated the same? No they wouldn't; these ratings are purely for Waits's work only.
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Old 10-28-2021, 10:48 AM   #9 (permalink)
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So what do you do when you've had two pretty much whimpers of albums, that never bothered the charts and hardly spread your fame far and wide? Well, if you're Waits you record a double live album, in a studio, and use nothing off the previous two albums! Conceived as very much a jazz record that would capture the atmosphere of small jazz and beat clubs, Waits's third effort would feature entirely new material, plus one cover version, inviting a studio audience into a space where tables and drinks were set up, and encouraging background chatter and noise. It wouldn't win him any commercial plaudits, but it would be different and unique enough to secure him a place in the book 1001 albums you must hear before you die.

And in this case, take it from me, you must.

Nighthawks at the Diner (1975)

If there's one thing this incredible album demonstrates it's how much of a showman Waits is. Not only did he write all this new material and perform it almost without rehearsal (he wrote nothing down, making it a challenge for his band to learn it), but he sprinkles the music with amusing and clever anecdotes and introductions, many of which are almost as good as listening to the songs themselves. An invited audience to what became a sell-out show having first been warmed up by a performance by a stripper, Waits and the band take the stage, and give us an “Emotional Weather Report”.

Before that though, there's the opening intro, as the band keeps time behind him, Waits welcoming everyone to “Raphael's Silver Cloud Lounge”, although it is in fact The Record Plant Studios in LA. This seems to be the first real instance of what would become his classic drunken drawl, as he slightly slurs his words (though you can make out every one perfectly; this is just an act, a stage persona - isn't it?) as he goes on to tell us “I'm so goddamn horny the crack of dawn better watch out!” and how “You're gone three months and you come home, everything in your refrigerator's a science project!” When the song begins, it's pretty much a continuation of his opening monologue, as he slips in references to local spots, and sings (or really, speaks in rhythm) about ”Tornado warnings in effect before noon Sunday/ For the areas including/ The western region of my mental health/ And the northern portion of my ability/ To deal rationally with my /Disconcerted precarious emotional situation.”

Some very jazzy music underpins this, upright bass, trumpets and sax, and that sort of ticking percussion that you hear in these sort of clubs, the drummer seeming more to just be keeping time than actually playing. I guess it would be termed a jazz jam, maybe? It's more a slow blues intro then to “On a Foggy Night”, with another entertaining scene-setting by Waits as he takes us on “an improvisational adventure into the bowels of the metropolitan region.” There's not too much point in my recounting what he says here; you really need to hear this to get the proper atmosphere, and in fairness much if not all of it is very America-specific and quite dated in some cases - stuff about saving coupons off an “Old Gold”? The song then wanders along on a slow, lazy blues/jazz line as Waits meanders through the tune, slipping into monologue and then back to singing as he goes.

A hilarious resume of his eating experiences in local restaurants introduces the next song, as he drawls, to enormous and knowing applause, “I've had strange looking patty melts at Norms, I've had dangerous veal cutlets at The Copper Penny. I ordered my veal cutlet, Christ it walked off the plate and down to the end of the counter, tried to beat the shit out of my cup of coffee! Coffee just wasn't strong enough to defend itself!” The song then contains the title of the album as “Eggs and Sausage (In a Cadillac with Susan Michelson)" slides in from his monologue, the restaurant theme developing through the song. Another slow, bluesy style song with his easygoing vocal and some fine work on the piano too. Another standout then comes in “Better Off Without a Wife”, as he introduces it by saying it's “for anyone who's ever whistled this song (plays “The Wedding March”) then grins as he admits “Well maybe ya whistle it but ya lost the sheet music.” He then goes on to describe his ideal date: with himself. Hilarious.

The song is wonderful though. ”Sleepin' till the crack o' noon/ Been out howlin' at the moon/ Goin' out when I want to/ And comin' home when I please/ Don't have to ask permission/ If I wanna go out fishin'/ Never have to ask for the keys.” It rides along on a slow bouncy sort of honky-tonk rhythm on the piano as Waits croaks out the advantages to being single. This before he met Kathleen I assume. The first song on the album not to have an introduction, and the original intended title for the album, “Nighthawk Postcards (From Easy Street)” opens on a sliding walking bass line before Waits comes in with the vocal, something he calls himself an “inebriational travelogue”, the song again not so much sung as spoken, the images evoked of a city at night seen through the eyes of a drunk, as he says “You been drinking cleaning products all night, open to suggestions.” It's by far the longest track on the whole album, at eleven and a half minutes as he weaves his way through the nighttime streets, watching the denizens of the city as they scurry to and fro. Some great sax work again and a hypnotic bassline accompanies him as the song speeds up and slows down, Waits singing/talking about sailors, movie-goers and used car salesmen as he swaggers on down the rainsoaked avenues, “Using parking meters as walking sticks” and the band kicks into a bit of a boogie as he goes on his way.

It's the sort of song that seems so directionless and abstract and improvisational that it could conceivably go on forever, or at least until Waits loses his voice, but it ends well and leads into another anecdote which flows into “Warm Beer and Cold Women”, where Waits returns to the country influences he explored on his debut album. It's a nice swaying ballad driven by piano as he sings about ”Platinum blondes and tobacco brunettes”, Pete Christlieb ripping off a fine sax solo, then “Putnam County” is another sort of improvisational trip through ... Christ I don't know. It's all very on-the-fly, seat-of-your-pants songwriting. But it's exceptionally entertaining. Into a blues shuffle then for “Spare parts (a nocturnal emission)" as Waits sets the scene: ”The dawn cracked hard like a pool cue/ And it weren't takin' no lip/ From the night before.” It's a finger-clickin', toe-tappin', hand-clappin' infectious beat and sax and bass drive it alone in a sort of a slowed-down “Diamonds On My Windshield” feel.

“Nobody” is an old-style Waits ballad with his hard-bitten twist on it, almost completely piano driven, and it's the shortest of the tracks on the album, bar the intros: just under three minutes. It leads into the only cover version, Tommy Faile's “Big Joe and Phantom 309”, with a short - very short - intro from Waits who declares “It's story time again!” Quite funny when he declares “Gonna tell ya a story about a truck driver” and one guy - one guy, probably a trucker himself - claps, hoping to start something off no doubt, but there are no takers. Hate that. Anyway, the song is credited to as I say Tommy Faile but Waits incorrectly says that it was Red Sovine that wrote it. Some quick research reveals that it was Sovine who had the hit all right, but it's Faile's song. Anyway it's the usual ghost-from-the-past-appears-to-help-stranger stories, set in a trucking concept. Cute, but a little predictable. It's for once not a piano song, but ticks along on some really nice acoustic guitar.

We end then on the outro, “Spare Parts II” as Waits thanks everyone for coming: “Woulda been strange if nobody had shown up!” There's the introduction of the band - perhaps odd, given that this is the end of the gig as it were, but then Waits always has been a maverick and does things his own way. And so comes to an end a pretty unique album, a singular experience and a hell of a hard album to review and get across to you all; I envy the lucky few who got to actually participate in this. Must have been a blast, and talk about immortality!

TRACK LISTING

1. Opening Intro
2. Emotional Weather Report
3. Intro
4. On a Foggy Night
5. Intro
6. Eggs and Sausage (In a Cadillac with Susan Michelson)
7. Intro
8. Better Off Without a Wife
9. Nighthawk Postcards (From Easy Street)
10. Intro
11. Warm Beer and Cold women
12. Intro
13. Putnam County
14. Spare Parts I (A Nocturnal Emission)
15. Nobody
16. Intro
17. Big Joe and Phantom 309
18. Spare Parts II and Closing

I never got to see Waits live (though I did give my brother a ticket to go when he couldn't afford it) but from the sounds of this album he must be one of the greatest entertainers to see onstage. His presence just radiates from the album and commands your attention. It's something that I again have to remark on, even though I've already said it, but to actually record a live album with completely new material is something I know of no other artist attempting. To think he had, at this point, a loyal enough fanbase that they would buy this album and listen to all-new tracks in a live setting is really something special. Hell, maybe they just came for the free beer, I don't know. Basically, it's like a new studio double album. But live. If you know what I mean.

If this hadn't cemented his position as a bona fide star, then the album that followed it would, though again the charts would know little of it and radio would always ignore him. No hit singles for Tom Waits, but then, that was not the world he inhabited.

And on balance, I think I prefer to live in his world.

Rating: 9.6/10
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Old 10-28-2021, 10:49 AM   #10 (permalink)
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Note: Nobody can see these reviews sliding off the page can they? I mean, the text isn't going too far to the right on any of them, is it? That's just me, right? I asked Frownland to check this out earlier and he said he could see none of the aberrations I was seeing, but it definitely looks off from my side. Just making sure it's not the same on yours? Thanks.
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