Review: Jack Foley
THE deep-throated vocal chords of actor-musician, Tom Waits,
are stretched to new limits for Real Gone, an epic, expansive
and totally wonderful long-player that has to rate as one of the
artist's most ambitious recording projects to date.
Boasting 15 tracks, the album, which was co-written and produced
by Waits with his wife and long-time collaborator, Kathleen Brennanby,
features everything from funk, Jamaican rock-steady blues (both
urban and rural), rhythms and melodies (both Latin and African)
and, for the first time, no piano.
It is a richly rewarding affair, which delivers something more
each time you hear it, and which confirms the Oscar-nominated
and Grammy Award winning star as a contemporary artist of genuine
From the opening moments of the human beat-box driven Top
of the Hill, and its bluesy guitars, you can tell you're
about to listen to something a little bit special.
For while Waits has traditionally used voice as an actor, inhabiting
each song with a different vocal character, on numerous songs
here he uses it as a chugging, sputtering, wheezing, syncopated
engine of sound and rhythm that can explode like a string of sidewalk
firecrackers, or sound like the dark incantations of a street
And the words are as emotive as ever, vividly portraying the
innermost feelings of the artist and his most raw and ragged.
Sins of the Father, for instance, is a terrific track,
another Jamaican-influenced slice of blues, featuring lyrics such
as 'dark town alleys been hiding you/long bell tolling is your
waterloo/oh baby what can you do/does the light of God blind you?'
Likewise, How's It Gonna End, which paints a wonderfully
vivid musical screenplay, that could easily provide the inspiration
for a Tom Waits movie.
Indeed, as strong as the musical arrangements are, much of the
fun in listening to Real Gone is hearing how the words
unfold, and how they wrap you up in their tales.
Dead and Lovely is another case in point, a melancholy
lament about a beautiful woman and the tragedy that unfolds around
her, which is rich in guitars and shuffling snare drums.
There are times when the raw quality of the album becomes exposed
(Waits recorded hours of vocal sounds and rhythms in his bathroom
at home, before he and Brennan began writing songs to them), but
this only serves to add to the authenticity of the music.
It feels like a labour of love, yet manages to sidestep the trap
of become self-indulgent or pretentious.
Indeed, it reminded me of visiting a Blues Bar in New Orleans
or Memphis and happening upon a really good band - the sort that
wears its heart on its sleeve; its deep-seated blues exposed to
the world, but well worth revelling in.
Real Gone is a celebration of Waits' musical virtuosity
and it's well worth indulging in.
Waits, himself, describes it as 'an electric pill box, a homogeneous
concoction of mood elevators, mind liberators, and downers, an
alchemical universe of rattling chains, oscillating rhythms and
nine-pound hammers - so check it out'.
We couldn't agree more.
1. Top of the Hill
2. Hoist That Rag
3. Sins of My Father
4. Shake It
5. Don’t Go Into That Barn
6. How’s It Gonna End
7. Metropolitan Glide
8. Dead and Lovely
10. Trampled Rose
11. Green Grass
12. Baby Gonna Leave Me
13. Clang Boom Steam
14. Make It Rain
15. Day After Tomorrow