Shot Of Rhythm

[ Wednesday, November 29, 2006 ]


Louder than a bomb

I'd just about given up on Public Enemy, after a lackluster 2006 release and the ongoing, ignominious exploits of Flavor Flav...and then I discovered BEATS AND PLACES, a basically unheralded release from the tail-end of 2005. (One of five PE-related releases in a year...eesh.) Hoping that it'd be fair-to-middlin', I was flabbergasted to find out that BEATS AND PLACES contains some of the group's best work in ages, the fiery blend of political assertion and heavy-metal-funk that made them worth a damn in the first place. I ain't saying it's anything like a masterpiece, but it might just be their best album in a decade...and, particularly after almost administering the last rites, I'm pleased to no end to be able to say that.

Here are a few tastes:

"Air Conditioning"

"Electric Slave"

"All Aboard The New Nighttrain"

On the box right now: Public Enemy, BEATS AND PLACES.


Dove With Claws [7:44 PM]

[ Monday, November 27, 2006 ]


All God's children

Tom Waits' new odds-and-sods compilation, ORPHANS, has absolutely floored me. I've long been a Waits fan, and - as a songwriter and musician myself - I've always admired his ability to combine true musical idiosyncrasy with the kind of knock-'em-dead songs that oughta be popular for as long as there are voices to sing, hands to play, and ears to hear. All of Mr. Tom's many gifts are on display on this three-disc set, and - conveniently, but also very effectively - each disc is devoted to a particular aspect of his rich talents.

On the first disc, "Brawlers," Waits rocks out, with as much gusto and grit as he's ever displayed. From the opening rockabilly rumble of "Lie To Me," through to the guttural honky-tonk of "Rains On Me," this disc is like raw ore, strutting around rock's forms and functions with the cocksure swagger of a justifiably confident professional, yet with the aching vulnerability of the truly angst-ridden. On this disc, more than the others, I hear a panoply of influences, some of which I only now completely understand as part of Waits' eccentric palette. Johnny Burnette, The Faces and Sister Rosetta Tharpe (among others) join the usual suspects of Dylan, Dion, Howlin' Wolf and the Beat Generation. As with the other discs, a few covers are mixed in with the Waits originals, including - in this case - a supple Ramones tune ("The Return Of Jackie And Judy"), plus the urgent version of "Sea Of Love" from the movie soundtrack of the same name. Classic stuff, perfect for those long car rides in the dark, when the rain comes down in sheets, and the ghosts start whispering dirty jokes into your subconscious.

"Lie To Me"

"Sea Of Love"

The second disc, "Bawlers," is probably the most musically satisfying, an absolute showcase for Waits' seemingly limitless ability to construct the sweet-and-sour soul/blues/pop ballads out of which he's made a sizable chunk of his career. Over the course of the songs on this volume of the set, what becomes most evident is just how deep Waits' signature balladry can go, trawling depths of emotion (both physical and spiritual) that need only be explored by the truly adventurous traveler. Also, accordingly, "Bawlers" is a far more stereotypically "listenable" disc, allowing the sandpaper-in-Hell rasp of Waits' rocking (and weirder) work to take a backseat to his choirboy-drunk-in-church swells and swoons. Another Ramones cover ("Danny Says") appears here, as do spotless originals like "Long Way Home" and the stunning "Down There By The Train," which Curtis Mayfield smiles down on from Heaven.

"Long Way Home"

"Down There By The Train"

Of course, it wouldn't be Tom Waits without a sizable dose of impish weirdness, and the third disc - subtitled "Bastards" - fits the bill. There are a few Waits monologues, which are surprisingly arresting given their only semi-musical orientation, and the rest of the disc is populated with songs that range from the slightly unusual to the completely bizarre. (His cover of Daniel Johnston is symbolically fitting, though on the low end of the strange quotient.) "Dog Door," for one, is totally indescribable, and brings hip-hop/electronic instrumentation into Waits' homebrew. Of course, there's also "On The Road," influenced equally by Kerouac and Kimbrough, a boogie-'til-dawn thang that sends everybody out on the lost highway once again. Mama said knock you out...

"Dog Door"

"On The Road"

In conclusion of this delusion, I'm about ready to name ORPHANS one of my very favorite releases of 2006, as well as my single favorite Tom Waits release. A towering collection of music that seems both epic and intimate, the collection has gone a long way in both reconfirming and re-imagining what I felt about Waits, and - thanks to this set - I'm a bigger fan than I've ever been. (It's also a far more successful career reinterpretation than The Beatles' LOVE, but that's another story...) Unlike so many of these rare/unreleased compilations, ORPHANS is both a valuable historical document, and an incredibly enjoyable listen. Highly, highly recommended...and lowly, lowly understood.

On the box right now: Tom Waits, ORPHANS, Disc 1.


Dove With Claws [7:34 PM]