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Tom Waits - Bad as Me

Tom Waits

Bad As Me


On “What’s He Building in There?” from his 1999 epic Mule Variations, Tom Waits proffered a nervous narrator beleaguered with the goings-on inside a neighbor’s house. Those who have followed Waits’s career—and particularly endured the space between his new recordings—can likely relate, wondering just when that blues-sodden boho poet, who stands as one of America’s most enduring, consistently challenging, and truly unique musical voices, is going to unleash new material from his mysterious workshop. “We have a right to know,” as that narrator proclaims at the end of “What’s He Building.”

And now we do. Bad As Me is the beast Waits has been tinkering at in the seven years since his last album of all new material (2004’s Real Gone), and those who have been hoping to get a peer through the dirty glass can now hear what easily sits among his finest work. Now heading into 30 years of collaborating with wife and musical partner Kathleen Brennan, Waits achieves results on Bad As Me that are refreshingly twisted and unquestionably beautiful. Like all of his great records, Bad As Me is loaded to the gills with the questionable characters, heartaches, lefts turns, and surprise detours that invariably characterize journeys of through the human condition.

The supporting cast of contributing musicians is a who’s-who, featuring Waits regulars like guitarist Marc Ribot, son Casey Waits on drums, Les Claypool at bass, and Tex-Mex organ superhero Augie Meyers.

The honking brass and woodwinds of “Chicago” captures a chugging search for a new start in a world of inconsistency to “leave all we’ve ever known/For a place we’ve never seen” while the protagonist of “Hell Broke Luce” declares, “I had a good home but I left,” going on to tell about the tolls wars takes on a soldier. It is as potent a protest song as 2011 will produce. A haunting Spanish guitar gently prowls through the heart of “Back in the Crowd” while Waits voices a lovelorn tale about having to ask to be let go: “Take my picture from the frame/And put me back in the crowd.” “Kiss Me” could be a Blue Valentine-era outtake, with sparse piano and guitar, and the mystique and dark romance of a 1940s detective novel. The autumnal “Last Leaf” celebrates standing the test of time and outlasting the rest, and fittingly features Keith Richards on guitar and backing vocal. “Get Lost” sounds like a junkyard band playing rockabilly with Waits as laryngitic Little Richard belting away with abandon.

donny kutzbach

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