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Tom Waits Bad As Me

November 8, 2011

I had a dalliance with Tom Waits based on his soundtrack (with Crystal Gayle – how did they hook up?) for the Coppola movie “One from the heart.”  At the time I was very much under Coppola’s spell – believing Apocalypse Now was the greatest movie of all time.  Plus I was very much hooked on Nastassia Kinski who starred in the movie (the photo below was pasted to my bedroom wall for several years).  I was one of two people who thought “One from the heart” was a good movie.  If nothing else it introduced me to the brilliance of Tom Waits.

I had heard of Tom Waits prior to “One from the heart,” but he was some cool hipster that was way over my head.  “One from the heart” was very accessible to me.  I picked up his next album “Swordfishtrombones” and thought it was pretty cool.  But then I lost track.  I am not sure why – I should have loved this guys career.

For some reason I got sucked into the hype to pick up “Bad As Me.”  I guess it was reading reviews that it was really good and it was really accessible.  Oh and Keith Richards and Flea played on a few tunes – the lured me in too.

Well I am glad I picked it up.  I forgot how original Waits is.  His voice is probably an acquired taste, but it sounds sweet to me – but I like Dylan’s current croak.  This is not an original description of Waits voice – but it is phlegmatic.  But there is more to it than just that – it is not just a wet cough – there is a musicality to it – he is singing and at time he sneaks in a croon – he sings gravely because he wants to not because he has to (sorry Bob).

What I like about Waits is he has great music going on behind that voice – there is jazz, R&B, rock and roll and Star Wars’ Cantina.  I also like that I always feel like Waits is pulling my leg and smirking at me.  He is a hipster – but he is not too cool to not let you know it is all a put on.

One of the most amazing songs on the album is “Raised Right Men.”  Here is a great example of how amazing Waits voice can be – I thought for sure it was a duet with somebody until I checked the credits. Waits alternates between his Cookie Monster voice and his Elvis Costello voice – amazing.  The next song is a sandpaper falsetto – how can he do it? Only to morph into a wild rock and roll ditty.  This is really a tour de force – with so many voices (but only one man)and so many great musicians: Keith Richards, Flea, the Los Lobos guys, Marc Ribot, Augie Meyers, Charlie Musselwhite, Les Claypool, – and those are just the names I recognize.  The musical arrangements are fun, but sophisticated – spanning the full pop music cannon.  The one genuine duet sounds like an overdub – it’s not its Keith Richards – sand on sand.

This album got me excited enough to creep into his back catalog and I picked up “Nighthawks at the Diner.”  That album is like a stand up routine masquerading as a music review.  He raps, he cracks, he sings.  Ultimately a smart ass poet backed by a jazz band.  He tells stories  and he jousts with a live audience.  What an amazing talent.  Hard to believe he has been so low on my radar screen all these years.  I am embarrassed I have not been a fan.  I have some catching up to do.  You probably do to.  “Bad As Me” is not a bad place to start.

Nastassia Kinski – it has nothing to do with this review, just a glimpse into past obsessions.


From → Music Reviews

  1. Moonbeam permalink


    You must listen to Mule Variations. My favorite Tom Waits record (besides Swordfishtrombones) and an interesting transition point in his career.

    Also check out Rain Dogs…



  2. Why I’m here. An informed review. CB is a Tom fan but nice to hear an honest opinion of the work. I go back to the ‘Fernwood Tonight’ days with Waits.

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