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Published: 2006/11/19
by Randy Ray

Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards – Tom Waits

Anti 86677

“Scoundrels, all of them.”

- Umberto D, directed by Vittorio De Sica

The new three-part, 56 song Tom Waits box set features 30 new and unreleased recordings and tracks culled from collaborations with filmmakers, literary figures and musicians while celebrating the long professional relationship with Waits and his wife, producer Kathleen Brennan. As box sets go, the three-year project painstaking parses the various sides of the man’s eccentric diversity into easy-to-define sections which welcome the new listener as well as rewarding the longtime fans by delivering an invigorated muse dancing circles around the always penetrating crumpled hat artist from the circus of one’s mad dreamseasy rock crit sound bite? Charles Bukowski battled Neal Cassady in a dark carnival parking lot and Keith Richards won via the transmigration of Tom Waits.


Contains the compressed grunge rock and old time soul of the bullet-microphone Waitspercussion, vinegar and fuzzed guitars wail along a tortured, spew-prone narrator. Not always my cup of java, as the tracks circle '50s gangboy rawk but don’t rawk too much, yaknowwhatI’msayin’? However, the steam rising from this brawler fix strikes a pretty potent toxic sheen into the veins. “Fish in the Jailhouse" is a junk food classic while “Lucinda” is a beat box snatch of cantankery that burns, baybee, it burns. “Lord I’ve Been Changed” is a wonderful Coen Brothersesque outtake, while “All the Time” is two retards fucking in the back of a closet with the Danish film version of The Kingdom playing on a 12” screen while “Rains On Me” is an awesome slab of Willie Dixon night train psychedelica.


Yields the tortured soul of the forlorn love-lost loner that always appears to dwell in the nether regions of Waits’s woebegone ballads. This section contains my favorite brand of 100 proof Waits whiskeyalmost the soundtrack to a cool late night black and white Woody Allen film, the one where the underdog world of the eternal mensch is rewarded by small, quiet heartbreaking victories that no one else ever sees. “Bend Down the Branches” and “You Can Never Hold Back Spring” sets the tearjerking tone with classic Waits minimalist instrumentation — acoustic guitar, soft horn, restrained piano and echoes of a brush across a drum. “Little Drop of Poison” makes one feel like the circus not only has come to town but one is actually in its relentless, non-stop epic dusty sprawl. “Fannin Street” is an extraordinary Dylan travelogue featuring World Gone Wrong-lo-fi theatrics while contemplating the weary, Bermuda Triangle affect of the poorly-chosen road taken through gilded doors and the desire to have much more“the glitter and the roar,” as Waits laments. This is the line the box set-fence sitter wants to hear: the ride is well worth the ticket price based upon the Bawlers selection of rich cuts.


Vomits the avant-garde, experimental side with some ancient old radio ghost tales that could only have been spun by the mischievous and monstrous pen of Waits unchained. Obviously, these tracks have great value to someone like me who loves the circus milieu, weird stories and the elusive search for a web of reality embedded in a psychotic world. “Children’s World” just about says it all in its two minute mystery world while “Heigh Ho” mines for gold along the celestial railroadharps and noise and bullet mikes. “Redrum” is electronica gone all wrong and haywire but I hit this track numerous times and the wicked trance is quite enthralling — mega strangeness in a simple homicidal ditty.

You’re still alive, right? Not sure? Stop sitting there, get up, seek the bizarre and tell me what you findremember: the questions are always more interesting than the answers and no one delivers tantalizing scoundrel headscratchers better than Tom Waits.

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