November 21, 2006

IF IT'S ABOUT THE VOICE, WHY DISTORT IT MECHANICALLY?:

Tom Waits for Every Man (MARK RICHARDSON, November 21, 2006, NY Sun)

With Tom Waits, it begins with the voice. Descriptions of his vocal instrument usually invoke an ear, nose, and throat doctor's nightmare: the sound of a man who has gargled drain cleaner or smoked cigarettes filled with home insulation. Mr. Waits has spent more than two decades borrowing from Louis Armstrong, Howlin' Wolf, and Captain Beefheart in equal measure, but he's put a highly personal stamp on his rough, untutored holler. He owns his sound like no other vocalist, to a degree that has been successfully tested in court (see the lawsuits he's filed against advertisers who have used a sound-alike to sing jingles).

Mr. Waits's voice began softer and comparatively nasal on quieter, jazz-influenced records such as his 1973 debut "Closing Time." It gradually developed the raw expressiveness that by the 80s had become his trademark, complimenting perfectly his ramshackle junkyard orchestra aesthetic and songs of desperate people existing on the margins.

To the fans who have made Mr. Waits an icon of uncompromising avant-rock, the quirks of his singing are like the "L" train rattling outside Elwood Blues's apartment, so omnipresent you don't even notice them. To detractors, his voice is an obstacle that obscures fine songwriting. These folks would rather hear Rod Stewart's cover of "Downtown Train" than the barking original from Mr. Waits's 1985 album "Rain Dogs." Many are in the middle, enjoying Mr. Waits as he slips into his scotchsoaked croon on gentle ballads, reaching for the stop button when he fires up the bullhorn.

For the latter crowd, Mr. Waits makes his 3-CD boxed set, "Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards," easy.


The odd thing is that while the Stewart cover is certainly the best recording ever of a Waits' tune--including his own renditions--his own cover of Phantom 309 is his best recording, even though he's a fine songwriter.

MORE:
Bard of the Boneyard: Seekers of the sublime find the familiar in new Tom Waits multi-disc release (Emily Condon, November 22, 2006, City Pages)

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 21, 2006 1:51 PM
Comments

My favorite is "The Part You Throw Away" but I'm a sucker for a sad clarinet song. There are a lot of nice Tom Waits YouTube videos out there, or at least there were.

Posted by: Mike Beversluis at November 21, 2006 2:46 PM
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