"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards
Sony Music/Epitaph, 6,300 yen

The great American lo-fi junkyard genius and hobo poet-philosopher clanks, chugs, cackles, wails and croons his way through an astonishing 56 tracks--about three hours of material--on his latest release.

Orphans began as an attempt to collect various Waits tracks originally recorded for films and tribute albums, and other assorted bits and pieces that had never made it onto any of Waits' albums. Somewhere in the collecting process, Waits and his wife and creative partner Kathleen Brennan were inspired to come up with 30 new compositions.

Along with all the new works, the material on Orphans includes a broad spectrum of covers, including the Ramones' "The Return of Jackie and Judy," the '50s R&B favorite "Sea of Love," Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter's classic "Goodnight Irene" and sentimental chestnut "Young at Heart" as well as lyrics by Beat icon Jack Kerouac and meat poet Charles Bukowski set to Waits' music. And just wait until you hear his cover of the Walt Disney classic "Heigh Ho."

Waits' genius for avant-garde arrangements and unorthodox soundscapes gives a continuity to the diverse tracks that span decades in time and light years in outlook.

The first of the three CDs in the set, Brawlers, is Waits in his barroom piano-player and song-and-dance man persona, barking out blues about breaking out of jail with a fish bone ("Fish in the Jailhouse") and his baby leaving on the "2:19." Much of Brawlers sounds like material that could have come from 1999's Mule Variations.

The second CD, Bawlers showcases Waits' tenderhearted side with ballads sweet and sad, and sly love songs--if there is a hit on this album, it is the hummable "Long Way Home" from the soundtrack to the 2001 movie Big Bad Love.

The third disc, Bastards, is a trip into dark territory that includes recitations of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, a bedtime story bound to send most kids into therapy, a dirgelike cover of Daniel Johnston's "King Kong," stand-up comedy and a weird subterranean monologue about bugs.

"Orphans are rough and tender tunes. Rhumbas about mermaids, shuffles about train wrecks, tarantellas about insects, madrigals about drowning," says Waits in a press release accompanying the review copy. "Scared, mean orphan songs of rapture and melancholy. Songs that grew up hard. Songs of dubious origin rescued from cruel fate."

Take them home and give them the love they deserve.

The Road to Escondido
Warner, 2,580 yen

Just in time for Eric Clapton's latest Japan tour, The Road to Escondido is a reunion of the duo responsible for two of Clapton's biggest hits: "After Midnight" and "Cocaine." J.J. Cale wrote most of the 14 songs on the album and the two veteran blues rockers share guitar duties with Albert Lee, Derek Trucks, John Mayer and occasional Clapton and B.B. King sideman Doyle Bramhall II (who will be making the journey with Clapton to Japan along with Trucks).

Other guests include journeyman bassist Pino Palladino, bluesman Taj Mahal and the late, great Billy Preston.

Nothing here matches the intensity or energy of Clapton's earlier covers of Cale in the 1970s, but there is plenty of relaxed, foot-tapping blues, rock and countrified jazz. For a pair of guitar heroes, Cale and Clapton show admirable restraint in their solos and never push to hard, going for taste over flash.
(Nov. 11, 2006)

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