Thursday, June 14, 2012


My friend and former colleague Greg Wacks and I occasionally host public chats on Spreecast, the very cool and forward thinking company that he co-founded. Tomorrow we're discussing the more recent works of the great Tom Waits.   Last time we chatted, Greg mentioned that he doesn't really keep up with Tom Waits' more recent works, which floored me.  To me, if there's any artist in their 50s and up who has never embarrassed themselves or their audience, it's Tom Waits.  If there's any artist who still deserves your attention and respect after decades of service, it's Tom Waits.

In fact, his most recent era -- by my definition, the albums he's done for Epitaph Records' Anti- label - is my favorite era. That's probably sacrilegious to many longtime fans.

But I got into Tom via his classic collaboration with Primus -- "Tommy The Cat." The first new album he did after that era was his Anti- debut, 1999's Mule Variations. I know that Tom is an acquired taste, but I got into that album pretty quickly.  I'll say it's my favorite of Tom's albums.  The sounds are weird, but the songs are classic. I think Primus prepared me for Tom. Mule Variations has a lot of great tunes: "Big In Japan" kicks the album off, and actually features Primus backing him. I think the album has everything you'd want from Tom: weird, clang-y blues stomps like "Cold Water." Some of his really, really weird stuff like "Eyeball Kid" ("he was born without a body, not even a brow!"). And it has two of his loveliest ballads, "Hold On" and "Picture In A Frame" (the latter was covered by Willie Nelson).  I remember this album really blowing me away.

In 2002, he released two albums on the same day: Blood Money and Alice.  Each of them was attached to a different play.  Honestly, I didn't love either album, but I did really dig "Table Top Joe" (from Alice) and "Misery Is The River Of The World" (from Blood Money).

2004's Real Gone was almost as good as Mule Variations, and just as weird (if not weirder). That album has a bit of a hip-hop influence, but it didn't pander.  It's just that it had a looped, sampled sound, and there was turntable scratching going on.  It contains one of my favorite Tom songs, "Hoist That Rag."

In 2006, he put out Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards, a three CD set of songs that hadn't come out on prior albums.  "Brawlers" were the more rocking/blues songs, "Bawlers" were the ballads and "Bastards" were his weirder stuff.  One of the "Bawlers," "Long Way Home" (which he initially gave to Norah Jones) is one of his finest moments.

His next release was Glitter and Doom Live, a great concert album. Disc 1 was songs, disc 2 were the stories that Tom told from the stage.  Who else could even put out a disc of non-musical stuff and make it interesting?

And finally, last year's Bad As Me, my third favorite album of the year. Hopefully tomorrow I will be able to make a case to Greg about the greatness of Tom's recent material... and hopefully I can turn some other people on to Tom also. 

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