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ChinaBoatMan "chinaboatman" (United Kingdom)

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Blue Valentine
Blue Valentine

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Waits sends us Blue Valentines, 31 July 2007
This review is from: Blue Valentine (Audio CD)
This is one of Tom Wait's finest records and the high point of his 70s persona. An album full of hoodlum melodies, dirt tragedies, and desperate romances. Every song tells a story, every story is filled with street level pathos. Musically, it grooves, twisting on a melody, never straying from dead centre, seeded from the rough and tumble `Small change' (his best record up to this point) it is the roots of the R n B inflected follow up `Heartattack and Vine, both classic and upcoming Tom waits, beating them both: for cohesion, for impact, for the battle weary heartsongs of the gutters. Tom Wait's voice has never sounded better; at once both bestial and beautiful, like the songs themselves.

We begin with perhaps the most appropriate opening track of any record, as Waits performs his version of `Somewhere', a song from West Side Story: undoubtably one of `Blue Valentines' biggest influences. Here, Waits' voice towers gloriously above the already soaring orchestration, setting the tone for the album perfectly. Then there is a hush before stuttering, tumbling drums announce `Red Shoes by the Drugstore', creeping out of the shadows. This is possibly Wait's most experimental recording at this point of his career, built upon the foundation of a loping bassline, which somehow manages to perfectly capture the impending, inevitable tragedy of the lyrics: a story of a girl waiting on a street corner for a lover who will not come, caught stealing jewellery to present her with. It is perhaps one of Waits most brilliantly realized `concept' songs.

Next up,`Christmas Card from a Hooker' is perhaps the most flawed recording on the record, deconstructed to a single groove like many of the songs but in this case to its detriment, losing the gut wrenching sentimentality of its lyrics in a schmaltzy melody, one of the biggest of Waits' foibles at this point in his career. If performed as a traditional Waits piano ballad (as it was brilliantly in Wait's live sets of this period) it could have stood as one of his finest and most affecting songs; instead, it becomes a tedious, prolonged nag at the attention.

`Romeo Is Bleeding' spins and whirls hiply, Waits' cool cat delivery belying the violent beauty of the story he tells, that of the demise of the leader of a street gang, portrayed very romantically by Waits: `and he'll die without a whimper, just like every hero's dream; like an angel with a bullet, and Cagny on the screen'.

`Whistlin' Past the Graveyard' is practically a Screamin' Jay Hawkins song (and in fact, it has been covered by him) and a brilliant one at that, the at once hilarious and also oddly affecting story of a homeless juju man and it is the most jubilant and cathartic moment of the album.

`Kentucky Avenue' is in the traditional Tom Waits' huge piano ballad style and is one of his absolute best in that category, a monumental, elegiac ode to childhood.

`Sweet Little Bullet' tells of yet another ignominous fate, this time of a teenage girl who comes to Hollywood and doesn't find what she was looking for. Waits' voice here rasps unsympathetically, and is so over the top that it's almost breathtaking, right on the cusp of parody like much of Waits' material.

This is a fantastic record, featuring some of Wait's finest vocals and is perhaps the single record that will cause non-fans of this era of Wait's career to suddenly realize that they `get it', as it did for me.

The Black Rider
The Black Rider
Price: £7.24

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Come on along with the Black rider, 15 July 2007
This review is from: The Black Rider (Audio CD)
Theatrical, Vaudeville tinged lp, originally for the musical of the same name. One of Wait's less orthodox recordings, featuring a fair few instrumental pieces and `fills', often of an experimental nature. He mostly performs characters here and the lyrics have to be seen in that light but the characters are evocative and do come through. William Bourroughs contributes to a fair few of the lyrics here and his touch is evident. Hit and miss, largely because of its contextual nature, most of the songs hanging on the same themes and motifs. Underrated but not an obvious place to start a collection.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 26, 2008 2:21 AM GMT

Rain Dogs
Rain Dogs
Price: £6.53

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For I am a Rain Dog Too, 11 July 2007
This review is from: Rain Dogs (Audio CD)
Wait's most pop oriented (in the sense of short songs and catchy, easy to listen to tunes) lp and many people's favourite. A dizzyingly diverse series of vignettes in a range of Waits styles past and present ('Walking Spanish' looks back; 'Singapore' looks forward). A little of everything here, this album is almost like a commercial for Wait's career. Also perhaps his most varied album vocally, from whispered hush to his full scale `pirate' boom.
Very upbeat, with little in the way of the slow ballads that had been his staple before this(though that doesn't mean there are no lumps in the throat: there are), there is an immediacy here that will rattle you through the 19 tracks before you can catch your breath.

Bone Machine
Bone Machine
Price: £5.99

9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars They say that beneath his coat there are wings, 11 July 2007
This review is from: Bone Machine (Audio CD)
An album of dark tunes at the end of the world, that is definately at the alternative end of Wait's output. Production like a dripping tap in a charnel house. Heavily emphasised, crude percussion permeates, with often harsh vocals. Melody is not the key ingredient here. Varied in terms of song styles: a bit of dark blues (the standout 'Murder in the Red Barn', which has excellent lyrics, even for Waits), a bit of James brown ('Such a Scream'), a bit of gospel ('Jesus gonna Be Here'), a bit of early 90s style fuzzy rock (I don't Wanna Grow Up), the obligatory piano ballads ('A Little Rain', 'Whistle Down the Wind', not amongst his finest), even a piece reminiscent of African field recordings ('Earth Died Screaming'); all of this is tied together by a uniform apocalyptic sound, perhaps the definitive example of Waits' so called 'junkyard orchestra'.

Waits also tries a few different vocal styles (such as his struggling falsetto on 'Dirt in the Ground' and 'All Stripped Down') but all of them sound scraped and haggard, suiting the songs.

Also Contains one of his best spoken word pieces (The eerie 'The Ocean Doesn't Want Me'), one of his best sentimental singalongs (That Feel) and the dark and glorious 'black wings'.

The styles and quality are both mixed and this is not one of Waits' more accesible recordings.

Blood Money
Blood Money
Price: £7.94

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Woyzeck by any other name, 11 July 2007
This review is from: Blood Money (Audio CD)
The least focused of all waits' musical soundtracks, this one is from the Robert wilson play `woyzeck'. There are some of Wait's best growlers here, as he gives voice to low life, morally abandoned characters. Lyrically dark throughout, the music varies between jaunty, fast paced jazz, to functional ballads, to some of his fiercest recordings, often with a hint of vaudeville, which some will love and some will hate. This seems to come about through a lack of cohesion however, rather than through an attempt at diversity, many songs having a `left over from another album' feel. Some great songs but more that are mediocre.

Mule Variations
Mule Variations
Price: £7.94

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Waits and his fierce, black hounds, 11 July 2007
This review is from: Mule Variations (Audio CD)
This is a warm, often sentimental lp with ramshackle (but not neccasarily minimal), homely production. It's roughly half and half piano ballads (some of his best: Picture In A Frame, Georgia Lee, Take It With Me, House Where Nobody Lives) and crackling, temple throbbing, thunder cloud blues numbers (Get Behind the Mule, Blackmarket Baby, Cold Water and the dead fly eyes of the excellent 'Low Side of the Road'). Also contains his potential weird pop hit `Big In Japan', the sinister spoken word ambience of `what's he Building?' and some great rustic compositions such as `chocolate Jesus' and the quirky redneck howler `Fillipino Box Spring Hog'. `Eyeball Kid' points the way to future compositions, featuring his distinctive `vocal percussion'. Probably his most accesible collection since Raindogs and his most succesful `current' record.

Price: £7.94

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dreamy Weather - Waits waves his crooked wand, 11 July 2007
This review is from: Alice (Audio CD)
This is a mesmerizing, immersive lp of beautifully crafted and produced ballads, originally for a musical of `Alice in Wonderland'. The songs touch upon the Alice theme lightly, standing just as well in their own right. Some of Wait's most moving and poetic lyrics at the more fantastical end of his spectrum. A luscious oddness runs through this lp like morphing, hypnotic chimera or the Chesire cat's grin, hanging in the air. Wait's songwriting at it's best, wreathed in blurry light and shadowy touches.

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