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Tom Waits - Orphans


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November 21 is the release date for a new Tom Waits 3-disc set. I heard most of this last night for the first time and I was amazed. Perhaps it was the first-time jitters, but I was really impressed yet again. I will listen more and more. Consistently one of my favourite artists; I gre up on a steady diet of Closing Time, Nighthawks, and Swordfishtrombones and Rain Dogs. I can go months without listening to a note, but when I put it back on it all comes back.

When I was small I always thought that songwriters sat alone at upright pianos in cramped smoky little rooms with a bottle and an ashtray and everything came in the window blew through them and came out of the piano as a song…and in a weird way that is exactly what happens.

What’s Orphans? I don’t know. Orphans is a dead end kid driving a coffin with big tires across the Ohio River wearing welding goggles and a wife beater with a lit firecracker in his ear.

At the center of this record is my voice. I try my best to chug, stomp, weep, whisper, moan, wheeze, scat, blurt, rage, whine, and seduce. With my voice, I can sound like a girl, the boogieman, a Theremin, a cherry bomb, a clown, a doctor, a murderer…I can be tribal. Ironic. Or disturbed. My voice is really my instrument.

Kathleen and I wanted the record to be like emptying our pockets on the table after an evening of gambling, burglary, and cow tipping. We enjoy strange couplings, that’s how we got together. We wanted Orphans to be like a shortwave radio show where the past is sequenced with the future, consisting of things you find on the ground, in this world and no world, or maybe the next world. Whatever you imagine that to be.

If a record really works at all, it should be made like a homemade doll with tinsel for hair and seashells for ears stuffed with candy and money. Or like a good woman’s purse with a Swiss army knife and a snake bite kit.

Orphans contains songs for all occasions. Some of the songs were written in turmoil and recorded at night in a moving car, others were written in hotel rooms and recorded in Hollywood during big conflamas. That’s when conflict weds drama. At any rate these are the ones that survived the flood and were rescued from the branches of trees after the water’s retreat.

Gathering all this material together was like rounding up chickens at the beach. It’s not like you go into vault and check out what you need. Most of it was lost or buried under the house. Some of the tapes I had to pay ransom for to a plumber in Russia. You fall into the vat. We started to write just to climb out of the vat. Then you start listening and sorting and start writing in response to what you hear. And more recording. And then you get bit by a spider, go down the gopher hole, and make a whole different record. That was the process pretty much the last three years.

Then we met Karl Derfler, a wizard engineer who works at Bay Side Studios in Richmond, CA, in the science fiction part of town. A battlefield medic, he did a Lazarus on a number of the songs and recorded all the new material.

On Orphans there is a mambo about a convict who breaks out of jail with a fishbone, a gospel train song about Charlie Whitman and John Wilkes Boothe, a delta blues about a disturbing neighbor, a spoken word piece about a woman who was struck by lightening, an 18th century Scottish madrigal about murderous sibling rivalry, an American backwoods a cappella about a hanging. Even a song by Jack Kerouac and a spiritual with my own personal petition to the Lord with prayer…There’s even a show tune about an old altar boy and a rockabilly song about a young man who’s begging to be lied to.

I think you will find more singing and dancing here than usual. But I hope fans of more growling, more warbling, more barking, more screeching won’t be disappointed either.

Tom Waits

August 2006

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Pitchfork has posted an exclusive download of "Road to Peace," a seven-minute-plus song about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the "Brawlers" disc of Tom Waits' upcoming three-disc set, "Orphans." It's almost a relief to find that even Waits, whose elegance and skill as a songwriter have been so consistent over the years that it's easy to forget after a while just how good he really is, sounds clumsy when tackling a topical political song.

http://downloads.pitchforkmedia.com/Tom%20Waits%20-%20Road%20To%20Peace.mp3

Aloha,

Brad

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