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The bar stools are on fire,
This review is from: Small Change (Audio CD)
A splendidly-named movement teacher, Jo Jelly, had the honour of introducing me to the magisterial Tom Waits. At drama college in `76, the year of the release of Small Change, she would put on Tom Traubert`s Blues, the opener of this now-classic album, first thing every session while we did our warm-up exercises - unlikely as that sounds. I couldn`t believe my ears, and very soon asked Jo who the guy was with the improbable voice singing such a unique song, with its Walzing Matilda refrain. (What endeared me to her forever was that she would then play Bonnie Raitt, whom I hadn`t then heard either. I have a lot to thank Jo for.)
Those reviewers who complain that TW seemed to be creating a self-myth on the back of his influences - well of course he was, and to some extent still is. Let`s say it loud & clear: Tom is a Romantic, a dirt-literate roughhouse ring-master who wears his Howlin` Wolf/Cap`n Beefheart influences on his worn sleeve, a breath of unfresh air in the wonderful wacky world of pop back in the faraway 70s, and still going strong, having discovered sobriety, family life, more things to hit and bash on than a piano - a drinking one or not - and a way with words almost unequalled by any of his peers.
After the lush, exquisite Tom Traubert`s Blues comes a parodic cascade of ad-man exhortations in the form of Step Right Up, which tries to sell you the ultimate gizmo that`ll do it all & more:
"It makes excuses for unwanted lipstick on your collar
and it`s only a dollar..."
This is the wittiest, wildest rap you`ll ever hear:
"It entertains visiting relatives"
Not only that:
"It walks your dog, and it doubles on sax...
gives you an erection, wins the election"
The rest of this carefully-programmed set of songs (Waits has invariably taken care with all aspects of his records) is a mix of sensuous ballads and humorous `raps`, one of the funniest being Pasties & A G-String, with its sudden cry of: "Cleavage, cleavage!"
Some of the slow songs are too beautiful to be true, surely his raspy voice giving them a rough, roguish grandeur a smoother-voiced singer would miss - as indeed Rod Stewart did, for example, when he covered Waits` later Downtown Train.
Two standout tracks among the sumptuous ballads are the gorgeous I Wish I Was In New Orleans...
"Well I wish I was in New Orleans, I can see it in my dreams
Arm in arm down Burgundy, a bottle and my friends and me"
...and the closer I Can`t Wait To Get Off Work, a brief song that pretty much does what the title implies:
"I can`t wait to get off work and see my baby,
She said she`d leave the porch light on for me"
The whole album, from the seedy, oh-so-posed cover pic to the bleary-neon lyrics and faux-Sinatra sensiblities, is a masterpiece of swashbuckling mock-flamboyant 2am sleaze, wrapped up in the plushest of plush arrangements (courtesy of Jerry Yester) with the additional jazz-accented bounce of Lew Tabackin`s sax & none other than the great Shelley Manne on drums.
Then there`s the song that comes halfway through the set, the musically inebriated The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me) - whose lyrical & musical eccentric drollery I`ll happily leave you to discover for yourself.
This is one album that keeps on giving. I first heard it (can it be?) 35 years ago,
so one or two tracks I know almost too well, but it`s a wonderful disc to return to, at 2am or anytime.
Tom Waits - he stands `on the shoulders of giants` yet manages to be a complete original.
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Initial post: 22 Jun 2014 21:41:06 BDT
Last edited by the author on 22 Jun 2014 21:42:40 BDT
The Forgiven says:
Yes, without a doubt Tom is a romantic, in the same way that Gordon Brown was a romantic. If you like the idea of the workers of the world uniting and everyone living in socialist peace than Gordon is your man. If you like the idea that Whiskey improves your senses and increases your prowess and ability to drive, then Tom is your man. Romamce and art is basically fooling you with the power of pretence. If you want a great pretender they don't come any better than Tom. Criticised for not living the lifestyle but which singer ever truly lived the lifestyle. Singer song writers are singer song writers, bums are bums. Tom is an excellent singer song writer but as an alcoholic bum you would just say to him ' Go home middle class art school boy, it's too dangerous for you here'.
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