Music Discoveries: Tom Waits


Tom Waits is a veteran singer-songwriter whose voice is a combination of sidewalk preacher, carnival barker, beat poet, and barstool philosopher. I first heard of Waits in the 80s when he was known as the guy with the crazy, gravely voice.  But then I heard the track “Innocent When You Dream” on a compilation album and fell in love with the heartfelt beauty underneath what sounded like a drunk guy crooning at a bar.  I got the album Franks Wild Years and it remains one of my all time favorites, and I’ve checked in and out on Waits’ career over the years.  This is the first time I’ve listened to all of Waits’ catalog from beginning to most current, and let me tell you it’s not easy to listen to all that Waits’ music back-to-back-to-back, although it is a worthwhile exercise.

Tom Waits’ career can be summed up into three basic eras:

  • 1970s – Waits was a little more eccentric than his contemporaries, but listening to his early recordings and he seems to fit in with the singer-songwriters of the era. You might even imagine an alternate universe where his career followed the paths of the likes of James Taylor, Elton John, or Randy Newman.  His trademark gravely voice didn’t even make its debut until the third album, and in the seventies it was more of an homage to Louis Armstrong or Doctor John as Waits recorded jazz and blues tinged tunes.
  • 1980s – This decade marked the emergence of the iconic Waits’ style, verging between lost recordings of American and avant guarde music with unusual instrumentation and tunings.  The decade is marked by the trilogy of albums he’s most remembered for: Swordfishtrombones (1983), Rain Dogs (1985), and Franks Wild Years (1987).
  • 1992 to present – While Waits’ music in this period remains experimental by the standards of contemporary popular music, and inspiration for “alternative music,”  it doesn’t vary much from the template he established in the 1980s.  Similarly, while 1990s and 2000s recordings include numerous gems and good albums overall, Waits is own worst enemy as a producer in that he allows the albums to be bloated with excess tracks that should be judiciously trimmed.  In short, don’t do what I did and listen to everything, but definitely seek out the good stuff.

Tom Waits hasn’t released anything new since 2011 or toured since 2008, but hopefully he has some songs left in him and there will be another Tom Waits era to look back on in the future.

Five Favorite Albums

  • Closing Time (1973) – definitely one of the great all-time debut albums, and the first three tracks are a strong start to any album.
  • Rain Dogs (1985) – Waits’ masterpiece and one of the great albums of the 1980s.
  • Franks Wild Years (1987) – the soundtrack to a play I’ve never seen, it remains a sentimental favorite
  • Bone Machine (1992) – Waits charges into the 1990s showing the alt-rockers how things are done with haunting lyrics and aural soundscape
  • Blood Money (2002) – these are songs from another play, but also reflect the misanthropy and pessimism of the post-Sept. 11th world under George W. Bush

Twenty-Five Favorite Songs

 

1. “Ol’ 55”

2. “I Hope I Don’t Fall in Love With You”

3. “Virginia Avenue”

4. “The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me) (An Evening with Pete King)”

5. “Jersey Girl”

6. “16 Shells from A Thirty-Ought-Six”

7. “In the Neighbourhood”

8. “Jockey Full of Bourbon”

9. “Hang Down Your Head”

10. “Downtown Train”

11. “Hang on St. Christopher”

12. “Innocent When You Dream (Barroom)”

13. “Yesterday is Here”

14. “Way Down in the Hole”

15. “Cold Cold Ground”

16. “Jesus Gonna Be Here”

17. “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up”

18. “T’ Ain’t No Sin”

19. “Hold On”

20. “House Where Nobody Lives”

21. “Misery is the River of the World”

22. “God’s Away on Business”

23. “Flowers Grave”

24. “Hoist That Rag”

25. “Chicago”

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Album Review: Harmony of Difference by Kamasi Washington


Album:Harmony of Difference
ArtistKamasi Washington
Release Date: September 29, 2017
Thoughts:

I don’t listen much to jazz, especially contemporary jazz, but a streaming music account means there’s no excuse to not try new things.  The new EP by the hot saxophonist and composer Kamasi Washington brings together 6 pieces in about 30 minutes of running time.  There’s a lot of retro feeling to this music, with nods to Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” 60’s Brazilian bossanova, and 70s funk fusion.  The EP culminates with the 15-minute piece “Truth” which brings back and mixes together themes from the other five pieces.  Washington’s music has a sound that would be suited to scoring films although it’s also a bit too “smooth jazz” for my taste.
Rating: **1/2

Song of the Week: “Ethiópían” by Samúel Jón Samúelsson Big Band


In my pseudo-hipster way, I tend to post songs by Icelandic bands and by bands with an afrobeat sound, so why not do both?  Samúel Jón Samúelsson Big Band is from Iceland and they do play an African jazz/funk fusion style as you can hear on this track “Ethiópían”

 

What are you listening to this week?  Post it in the comments and perhaps it will be my Song of the Week next week.

Song of the Week: “Number 9” by Moon Hooch


With two saxophones and drummer, Moon Hooch bring their scorching dance tunes from the New York City subway to the surface with “Number 9”.

 

 

What has your toes tapping this week?  Let me know in the comments.

 

Song of the Week: “Feeling Good (Bassnectar Remix)” by Nina Simone


 

Nina Simone‘s music is timeless, but the DJ Bassnectar adds an interesting groove in this remix of “Feeling Good.”

 

 

 

 

Here’s the unadorned, original recording for comparison:

 

 

What music are you listening to this week – new, old, or repurposed?  Let me know in the comments!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Song of the Week: The Souljazz Orchestra – Cartão Postal


This weeks song by Canada’s The Souljazz Orchestra brightens up a dark and dreary (but still unseasonably warm) day with samba and semba rhythms.  And it’s about postcards, one of my favorite things.

I learned about this song through a podcast from Minnesota Public Radio’s Current Song of the Day.  Other places I hear new music include:

Believe it or not, I even still find good music on the radio, especially thanks to the many college and public radio stations in Boston.  My favorite is WERS, which you can stream online or through an app if you live in environs not accessible to good radio.

Where do you learn of new music?