Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards (Anti-)

Tom Waits 

Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards (Anti-)

In a way, the three discs that make up Tom Waits' latest release, Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards, represent a rescue effort for songs that never made the cut. Some had been in the works for years and were never released; others were recorded for movies or plays. Although the set misses here and there, it's ambitious and eclectic. The disc titled Brawlers rattles with gritty, jacked-up electric blues. Bawlers drips sweet melancholy, and Bastards drags the listener by one ankle into Waits' twisted aural toolshed. The collection's 56 songs might have given him room enough to finally go off the deep end: warbling hymnals, transcendent covers and dark spoken-word tracks. His use of looped vocal beats ("mouth rhythms," he calls them; he claims to record the elements late at night in his bathroom) particularly takes off on Bastards. Waits' old soul seems to have peaked in his now-vintage body. The religious tunes "Take Care of All My Children" and "Lord I've Been Changed" transcend a mere aesthetic fascination with Jesus or the Gospel. "Young at Heart" and "Goodnight Irene" sound like they might as well have been written yesterday. In its finer moments, Orphans presents a Tom Waits who has finally grown into himself, like an arthritic foot into an old leather shoe.

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