album list
Tom Waits, 'Franks Wild Years'

Franks Wild Years  (1987,  56.46)  ****/T

Hang on St. Christopher
Straight to the Top (Rhumba)
Blow Wind Blow
Innocent When You Dream (Barroom)
I'll Be Gone
Yesterday is Here
Please Wake Me Up
Franks Theme
More than Rain
Way Down in the Hole
Straight to the Top (Vegas)
I'll Take New York
Telephone Call From Istanbul
Cold Cold Ground
Train Song
Innocent When You Dream (78)
Tom Waits, 'Bone Machine'

Bone Machine  (1992,  53.44)  ****/T

Earth Died Screaming
Dirt in the Ground
Such a Scream
All Stripped Down
Who Are You
The Ocean Doesn't Want Me
Jesus Gonna Be Here
A Little Rain
In the Colosseum
Goin' Out West
Murder in the Red Barn
Black Wings
Whistle Down the Wind
I Don't Wanna Grow Up
Let Me Get Up on it
That Feel
Tom Waits, 'The Black Rider'

The Black Rider  (1993,  55.40)  ***½/T

Lucky Day (Overture)
The Black Rider
Just the Right Bullets
Black Box Theme
'T'Ain't No Sin
Flash Pan Hunter (Intro)
That's the Way
The Briar and the Rose
Russian Dance
Gospel Tain (Orch)
I'll Shoot the Moon
Flash Pan Hunter
Gospel Train
Oily Night
Lucky Day
The Last Rose of Summer
Tom Waits, 'Mule Variations'

Mule Variations  (1999,  70.42)  ****½/½

Big in Japan
Lowside of the Road
Hold on
Get Behind the Mule
House Where Nobody Lives
Cold Water
What's He Building?
Black Market Baby
Eyeball Kid
Picture in a Frame
Chocolate Jesus
Georgia Lee
Filipino Box Spring Hog
Take it With Me
Come on Up to the House
Tom Waits, 'Alice'

Alice  (2002,  48.25)  ****/T

Everything You Can Think
Flower's Grave
No One Knows I'm Gone
Poor Edward
Table Top Joe
Lost in the Harbour
We're All Mad Here
Watch Her Disappear
I'm Still Here
Fish & Bird
Tom Waits, 'Blood Money'

Blood Money  (2002,  42.18)  ****/½

Misery is the River of the World
Everything Goes to Hell
Coney Island Baby

All the World is Green
God's Away on Business
Another Man's Vine
Knife Chase
Starving in the Belly of a Whale
The Part You Throw Away
A Good Man is Hard to Find
Tom Waits, 'Real Gone'

Real Gone  (2004,  72.09)  ****/T

Top of the Hill
Hoist That Rag
Sins of the Father
Shake it
Don't Go Into the Barn
How's it Gonna End
Metropolitan Glide
Dead and Lovely
Trampled Rose
Green Grass
Baby Gonna Leave Me
Clang Boom Steam
Make it Rain
Day After Tomorrow
Tom Waits, 'Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards'

Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards  [Discs 2 & 3]  (2006, recorded 1985-2006,  124.07)  ****/T

Bend Down the Branches
You Can Never Hold Back Spring
Long Way Home
Widow's Grace
Little Drop of Poison
Shiny Things
World Keeps Turning
Tell it to Me
Never Let Go
Fannin Street
Little Man
It's Over
If I Have to Go
Goodnight Irene
The Fall of Troy
Take Care of All My Children
Down There By the Train
Danny Says
Jayne's Blue Wish
Young at Heart
What Keeps Mankind Alive
Children's Story
Heigh Ho
Army Ants
Books of Moses
Bone Chain
Two Sisters
First Kiss
Dog Door
Home I'll Never Be
Poor Little Lamb
Altar Boy
The Pontiac
Spidey's Wild Ride
King Kong
On the Road
Dog Treat
Missing My Son
Tom Waits, 'Glitter & Doom Live'

Glitter & Doom Live  (2009,  109.16)  ****/T½

Lucinda - Ain't Goin Down
Get Behind the Mule
Fannin Street
Dirt in the Ground
Such a Scream
Live Circus
Goin' Out West
Falling Down
The Part You Throw Away
Trampled Rose

Metropolitan Glide
I'll Shoot the Moon
Green Grass
Make it Rain
Lucky Day
Tom Tales
'Stay Awake'

Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music From Vintage Disney Films  (1988)  ****/T

[Waits contributes]
Heigh Ho (the Dwarfs Marching Song)
'Red Hot + Blue: a Tribute to Cole Porter'

Red Hot + Blue: a Tribute to Cole Porter  (1990,  4.43)  ***½/½

[Tom Waits contributes]
It's All Right With Me

Current availability:

Mellotrons/Chamberlins used:

Before I begin I should explain that while I have immense respect for Tom Waits and can see what so many people see in what he does, I actually have trouble taking it in myself. As a result, these reviews will concentrate on his Mellotron/Chamberlin use, rather than being lengthy dissertations on music I don't really understand. As far as I can work out, he's never had a 'purple patch', although I'm told he may be starting to repeat himself on recent albums, but then, count the numbers of artists on the fingers of both hands who aren't after 30 years?

Waits had already been ploughing his lone furrow for nearly fifteen years by the time he released Franks Wild Years, containing all his usual characters and sung in his usual asthmatic drawl. As ever, his style was rooted in the forties, pre-rock'n'roll and despite being recorded at the tail end of Satan's Decade (the '80s, like you had to ask), has a timeless quality about it, due in no small part to Waits' refusal to bow to appalling '80s production values. Waits makes a pretty appalling racket with Mellotron flutes on Please Wake Me Up, along with an Optigan (ancient optical disc player), although top track has to be the ultra-melancholy Train Song.

Bone Machine does all the same stuff musically, although I believe by this point, Waits had bought an ancient Chamberlin Musicmaster 600, using it on three tracks. Earth Died Screaming has an arranged Chamby brass part at the end, The Ocean Doesn't Want Me consists of just Waits on faint Chamberlin strings and brass over vague percussion and vaguer vocals, while In The Colosseum has various faint tape-replay noises, including (I think) brass and choir.

Waits' next project was the soundtrack to a German stageplay, The Black Rider, with involvement from both Robert Wilson and the inimitable William Burroughs. Some of the material was recorded around 1990 and the rest recreated in California in '93, with all four Chamberlin tracks unsurprisingly being from the American sessions. Black Box Theme has effectively inaudible Chamby, but Crossroads makes up for it with Chamberlin solo female voice, while the last two tracks have bits of it, but used, as always, in a highly atypical manner.

Six years on, Mule Variations has a more guitar-based sound, like he's just caught up with the rest of the world, though it's still unmistakeably Tom Waits. There's even someone on turntables on several tracks; what's the world coming to? I'm not sure what the Chamberlin's even supposed to be doing on Black Market Baby; maybe the vibes? Waits has certainly used it more openly, even by his standards.

Alice and Blood Money were released simultaneously in 2002, both being rather belated releases of the music for another two German stageshows from a decade earlier. Alice is based on Lewis Carroll's favourite obsession, while Blood Money is an update of the old tale of Woyzeck, a soldier driven to kill his lover. A rare Waits Mellotron (flutes) outing on Alice, paired with Chamby vibes on Everything You Can Think, although I can't hear the Chamberlin on the witty Reeperbahn, or Barcarolle at all. Blood Money's Everything Goes To Hell sounds like Chamby vibes again, although once again, I can't hear a thing on either Coney Island Baby or Starving In The Belly Of A Whale.

I'm told by Those In The Know that Real Gone is a definite return to form, with Waits moving away from the self-parody he was in a very real danger of falling into over his last few releases. Saying that, it still sounds exactly like Tom Waits, although he seems to've reined in some of the really bonkers stuff, leaving just the Essence Of Waits encapsulated in a slightly gruelling 72 minutes of music. His son Casey plays on several tracks (largely turntables and percussion), with Marc Ribot on guitar again, as is Waits himself, barely touching the keyboards he was known for at one point. The only exception to this rule is the by-now traditional Chamberlin track, Circus, where he adds ghostly Chamby flutes and trumpet, with the vibraphone-like sound being credited as 'bells', for some reason.

2006's Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards is a three-disc Waits compilation that mops up loads of stray tracks, as its title suggests. Apparently, a few of them are to be found on his regular albums, but I've no idea which, unless they're on any of the above, although many of them have annotations pertaining to their source, including Heigh Ho from Stay Awake, below. This could possibly be the collection that finally lets me in on the secret of Tom Waits; it covers many bases, not just the full-on barker/barking stuff, including several tracks that could be dismissed as novelty items, not least the humorously bleak Children's Story and Nirvana, where Waits reads Bukowski over suitable backing. There's Chamberlin on a handful of tracks, with strings on Never Let Go, presumably from Waits, flutes on the aforementioned Heigh Ho from Mitchell Froom and dry, dusty cellos on Redrum, although Waits fans will buy this to fill in those Tom-shaped gaps in their collection.

2009's Glitter & Doom Live (recorded all over the place) is, unsurprisingly, a document of Waits' Glitter & Doom tour, comprising one disc of music (fairly traditional so far) and one of 35 minutes of tall tales, true facts and just about every point in between. Most of the tracklisting's drawn from his later albums, leaning heavily on Bone Machine, The Black Rider and Real Gone, although as a not-so-much-a-fan, I personally found the second disc more entertaining. Patrick Warren is credited with both Mellotron and Chamberlin; did Waits really haul both machines all across the world, or are we talking samples here? Near-impossible to say without pictorial evidence, but whatever we're hearing crops up on several tracks, with (Mellotron?) flutes (and Chamby strings?) on Live Circus and more flutes on Falling Down, The Part You Throw Away and Trampled Rose. Some of the woodwind parts may emanate from the Chamberlin, too: who can say?

So; Tom Waits - eclectic to the last (which, thankfully, doesn't seem to be anywhere near just yet). Since there are loads of sites with Waits reviews that actually know what they're talking about, I'll sum up his tape replay stuff. Frankly (ho ho), don't bother. Sorry, but apart from a couple of tracks spread over these seven albums, you can barely even hear the Mellotron/Chamberlin, although what you can hear is mostly unusual use, which has to be applauded. Oh, make your own minds up. See if I care.

Incidentally, Waits contributed his utterly unique version of Heigh Ho (the Dwarfs Marching Song) to the 1988 various artists effort Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music From Vintage Disney Films, managing to produce one of the most original pieces on the album, complete with Mitchell Froom's distant Chamby flutes (now added to Orphans, above). Now there's a surprise.


Has Tom Waits ever used his Chamberlin onstage? Extraordinarily unlikely, I'd say, so unless I receive proof to the contrary, the point of reviewing any boots is effectively nonexistent.


Official site

See: Red Hot + Blue

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