Orphans_-_Brawlers,_Bawlers_&_Bastards_(Tom_Waits_album_-_cover_art)Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards

(venuszine)┬áTom Waits works in the medium of twisted familiarity the way another artist might work in metal or electronica; he’s manipulative in how he bends fringe genres (postwar Berlin cabaret, anyone?) to create relatable tracks that sound natural beside Southern rock gospel, a gritty waltz ? or both.

This three-disc collection presents itself as a catch-all for material previously relegated to bootlegged concert recordings or compilations, but Orphans is better described as a pre-emptive “best of” collection. Originals, rarities, eclectic covers, and loans to other artists populate the triad of Waits’s moods. The yowling and bluesy disc one, aptly named Brawlers, kicks off with the ironic rockabilly “Lie to Me” and hits its stride with the rollicking Ramones cover “The Return of Jackie and Judy,” capped off by the throatiest “Sea of Love” rendition ever cut. There’s a fair amount of reach here, too. While Waits’s last release, Real Gone, contained an opaque political jibe or two, he comes right out and name-drops in “Road to Peace,” describing the plight of a young Palestinian suicide bomber while calling out Hamas, Abbas, Kissinger, Bush et al.

The second act does justice to Waits’s reputation as poster boy for the gutter-dwellers of the world, taking a heavier turn with the dark barroom tango “Drop of Poison” (featured, amazingly, in Shrek II), building to a discordant beauty of a track destined for smoky nightclubs the world over with “It’s Over,” and garnishing it all with a steel guitar reworking of “Young at Heart.”

But Orphans isn’t simply a loyal revisiting of the styles that have worked for him. Waits wades into the deep end for Bastards, weaving frenetically experimental styles with performance pieces, recordings that play as delightfully deranged song openers and personal anecdote ? including Waits imitating his father-in-law while talking about every Pontiac he’s ever owned.

originally published Dec 12 2006

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