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Tom Waits - Real Gone


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 worth.

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 corner shaman.

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.


Track listing:
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
9. Circus
10. Trampled Rose
11. Green Grass
12. Baby Gonna Leave Me
13. Clang Boom Steam
14. Make It Rain
15. Day After Tomorrow

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