Month: November 2015

‘As the Crow Flies, There the Truth Flies’ – Tom Waits & Crows

Though undeniably a shadowless shapeshifter of the highest order, there remains a deep mythology of motifs within the music of Tom Waits. Images and symbols that repeat across his mammoth output, helping to cohere his oft disparate soundscapes. Amongst his numinous touchtones, Waits is fascinated by trains, odd … Continue reading ‘As the Crow Flies, There the Truth Flies’ – Tom Waits & Crows

DITH Playlist – Tom Waits’ best guitar moments.

A new ‘Down in the Hole’ blog series curating playlists of Tom Waits songs ordered by theme and then preference of either pod co-host, Tom Kwei or Sam Whiles. Today, Tom picks 7 Waits songs on the basis of their guitar playing.

Cold Water – ‘Mule Variations’ (1999)

With Waits singing at the front of this song as a nomadic hobo in a hypnotic prison gang drawl, ‘Police at the station and they don’t look friendly. No they don’t look friendly. No they dooon’t’, longtime sideman Marc Ribot provides elegant yet gritty rhythm playing beneath. His tone sounding as if it were amplified through a hollowed out train carriage. Industrial, with the strings ringing out bright yet dirty, capable of thick predatory movement as well the ability, such as within the chorus, to lighten.

In a rare turn for Waits, it is the guitar solo which seems the centrepiece. Ribot slumbers in with a swagger around the 3 minute mark, clawing out from the marshy basis of the song to mimicking a cawing in and out of far off train signals. Technically he plays on blues tropes, paying real attention to their movement, fitting the solo pieces in a perfect, timeless way. It’s satisfyingly short with no exaggeration, something that plagued Waits’ earlier interactions with guitars.

Young at Heart – ‘Orphans’ (Bawlers) (2006)

A pop standard perhaps most known as a Frank Sinatra 1953 song, this version appoints the steel guitar of Barry Black to twist the playful, sultry strings that acommpanied ol’ Blue Eyes’ rendition. His attempt, couched through an excellent old-time radio production, is something remarkable. The technique employed by Black, and I mean this in the best possible way, is syrupy, with sheets of sound emerging all over pockets of the song. The playing is standout from start to finish, with Young at Heart’s unique central instrument delivering new moments whenever you go back and listen to this fantastic song.

Puttin’ On The Dog – ‘Orphans’ (Brawlers) (2006)

A song that originally appeared in the 1999 Barry Levinson comedy-drama Liberty Heights, ‘Puttin on the Dog’ is more the trembling sax in terms of it lead instruments, the guitar here more of a singular wonder. Weaving with such edgeless movement around the standard blues progression, the playing understated and intuitive. A great hidden gem.

Make It Rain – ‘Real Gone’ (2004)

The sound of Ribot’s guitar here is huffed out, exhausted in its low treble warmth. Rhythmically though he is still razor sharp in this excellent, if a little predictable (anyone else catch a ‘Way Down in the Hole’ vibe?) Waits song. Ribot sticks out again with an excellent solo turn, his playing sweaty and jagged here, as squeaky and angular as Waits himself. The sheer calamity of the guitar returning at the close of the song is great too, pushing the final choruses along with perpendicular chords formations.

Downtown Train – ‘VH1 Storytellers’ (1999)

This has always been my personal favourite version of this song. The ‘Rain Dogs’ version lacks the warmth of this, it also misses the throatiness of Tom’s later era too. Smokey Hormel on guitar here is terrific, shining both within the important chorus interaction, ‘may I see you tonight?’ with twiddly trills pull the end of the song out nicely, as well as the general soft background work that lifts up the track. Always loved the guitar slide at 3:48 in particular, it’s just always stuck with me for some reason.

Satisfaction – ‘Bad As Me’ (2011)

There’s a fun, jerky weave to this Stones homage, one featuring not only Keith Richards but Marc Ribot too. Both have a riot here in this Big Black Mariah-esque riffy slammer. Little comes in the song more than the hip-shaking and the fun asides. Richards, in particular, is an obvious presence, exploiting a simple slide shape in some interesting variations for a minute or more, free to bend out of this back to the song wherever Tom’s mad rambling here goes.

Be sure to check out the video for this song, I never knew it had one until writing this very article and it’s an awesome minimal thing directed by Bob Dylan’s son, Jesse.

Blue Valentines – ‘Blue Valentine’ (1978)

In this, the earliest entry chronologically in terms of Waits’ career, the singer is accompanied by renowned session musician, Alvin Shine Robinson. Robinson’s slow, chorus drenched arpeggios evoke a wide expanse of sound here despite it merely being he and Waits together alone on this noirish ballad. There is a small chromatic solo which is perhaps a little auxillary to the entirety of the song, yet the overall intent and mood is developed well. This is a forgotten song of Waits that probably shouldn’t be so.

‘Down in the Hole’ is a fortnightly Tom Waits podcast exploring the entire ouevre of the American singer songwriter, album by album. It is hosted by Sam Whiles (@sidwidle1) and Tom Kwei (@tomkweipoet):

Download off iTunes

Stream all the episodes so far on YouTube

Follow us @tomwaitspodcast