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Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards
Review by David Atkinson. 8.12.06
felt inclined to leave out Bone Machine from my Top Five Blues Records
but it very nearly made it. Why? Well, there's one track on it, Let Me
Get Up On It, that clocks in at 57 seconds - a wordless, nasty sounding
collection of metallic clanks and shrieking over an irresistible rhythm - which
for a period I just couldn't stop listening to. It seemed to be the very essence
of what I liked about music, particularly blues. Luckily for me,
Tom Waits has just released Orphans and it's full of tunes just like
Out of the 58 tracks on Orphan's three discs, half of them should
be of interest to any self-respecting blues fan. The influence
of Leadbelly, Howlin' Wolf and Charlie Patton is writ large, the intentionally
distorted instruments, songs of ribaldry and heartbreak... they are familiar
to us all. And surely no one alive possesses such a voice - as scary
as it gets. Whether or not you buy into the outsider imagery or theatrical weirdness,
the quality of the songs and feel of the music stand on their own and
are worthy of your attention. If you care, there's a photo in the book
of Waits with John Lee Hooker - talk about credentials...
Some of the tracks here appeared on Wicked Grin, the Waits-produced album
by John Hammond, but these versions have been rerecorded and are more,
well, rough. Charlie Musselwhite appears on quite few tracks too, doing
exactly what he does best, and the list of contributing musicians is
long and impressive.
Disc 1, Brawlers, contains the blusier/rockier numbers but Bawlers
and Bastards each have tracks that pluck the heart strings or rattle
the teeth. Whatever, the gospel-based tunes like, Walk Away, I know I've
Been Changed, Ain't Goin' Down To The Well sit alongside broken blues
like On The Road, 2:19, and Lowdown and rumbling rumbas such as
Sea Of Love. Nods to Leadbelly are present on Fannin' Street and Goodnight
Irene. If you aren't singing along to Rains On Me the first time you
hear it then you are beyond help. Plus you get awkward funk like Putting
On The Dog, the mental roadrunner riff of All The Time, murder ballads,
country laments, and things hit very hard in time.
You could argue that realeasing almost sixty songs at once is self-indulgent
but I would just put on Bottom Of The World and turn up the stereo. There
is a lot here and it is hard to take in all at once but so is a three
disc set of Charlie Patton, isn't it? If you aren't a card-carrying fan
but you do have iTunes then you can pick your favourites;
then you'll be in possession of your own personalised Tom Waits album,
a fantastic contemporary blues record and one of the finest things
you'll hear all year. A rare and copacetic gift.
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