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Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards

Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards

4.0 10
by Tom Waits

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Even though he's no longer prone to imbibing anything stronger than a double espresso, Tom Waits is seemingly incapable of walking a straight line when it comes to his musical output -- much to the delight of folks who revel in his wide-eyed explorations of the art house and the flophouse. Waits initially envisioned Orphans as something of an archive-emptying


Even though he's no longer prone to imbibing anything stronger than a double espresso, Tom Waits is seemingly incapable of walking a straight line when it comes to his musical output -- much to the delight of folks who revel in his wide-eyed explorations of the art house and the flophouse. Waits initially envisioned Orphans as something of an archive-emptying venture, but rounding up the material led him in enough unexpected directions to require expansion to three full discs: Brawlers for rough-hewn rock; Bawlers for sea chanteys, ballads, and drinking songs; and Bastards for unreconstructed eccentricity. While tethered by Waits's unmistakable voice -- both in a literal and figurative sense -- each volume has a distinct personality. Brawlers veers between seething passion, evinced in the free-form wail of "Road to Peace" (an unblinking, unpartisan look at terror in the Middle East) and barroom-ready raunch, brought to the fore on the bump 'n' grind of "Low Down" and an off-kilter cover of the Ramones' "The Return of Jackie and Judy." Oddly enough, that band shows up again on Bawlers, in the form of a poignantly swaying version of "Danny Says" that, despite its seeming idiosyncrasy, fits in nicely with Waits's versions of "Goodnight Irene" and "Young at Heart." It's the original material, however, that really shines through, notably the sentimental-but-not-saccharine "Tell It to Me." The funhouse mirror distortions that run through Bastards -- from the menacingly eschatological blues of "Books of Moses" to the chain-gang chanting of "King Kong" -- lend a dark, disturbing tone, but Waits balances that out with a passel of spoken-word pieces that exude the woozy good humor at the core of his all-too-uncommon live shows. At its core, Orphans is not only a testament to Waits' innate artistry, but to the purity of soul that's driven him all along.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Thom Jurek
At this stage of the game, any new Tom Waits record is an event. Listening through the music of his entire career is daunting, to say the least, but it's a journey no one else, with the possible exception of Bob Dylan, has taken before. If one listens to the official recordings, from 1973's Closing Time, featuring the songs of an itinerant Beat barroom singer (no lounges please), right on through to the frenetic mania of 2004's Real Gone, one becomes aware of not only the twists and turns of a songwriter wrestling and bellowing at and with his muse, but of a journeyman artist barely able to hold on to the lid of his creativity, let alone keep it on. True, there have been many stops along the way: in the seediest lounges (1977's Foreign Affairs, which could have been a twisted inspiration to novelist Phillip Kerr when he wrote the Berlin Noir trilogy); acid-drenched blues scree (1980's Heartattack and Vine); travelogues of the unseen and the unspeakable (1985's Rain Dogs); seething and murderous suburban nightmares (1987's Franks Wild Years); the frighteningly comic tales of plagues and carnivals (1993's Black Rider); the scrape, squeal, and hollowed-out metal crunch of urban junkyards and classically American paranoia (1999's Mule Variations); and through-the-mirror-darkly image nightmares and fairy tale variations (2002's Alice and Blood Money). All of it is contained in the man who takes delight in the bent, quarreling marriage of song and sound with dangerously comic imagery. Orphans is the most unwieldy Tom Waits collection yet. Packaged in a Cibachrome-tinted box are three discs containing 56 songs total. It claims 30 new tunes, but a mere 14 can be found on other records -- six othersd have to be hunted for while the remainder have shown up in various incarnationson soundtracks, compilations, etc. This crazy thing began as a collection of outtakes, rarities, soundtrack tunes, and compilation-only cuts -- some of which survive here in new form, including tracks from the Ramblin' Jack Elliot tribute, the Bridge benefit, and two Ramones covers, to name a few. In other words, the first conception for this mess was as a hodgepodge collection of attic material. Waits checked out the tune selection as it was and said something like "nah, bad idea; this would suck." So, he did what any self-respecting artist with a head full of ideas, two stomping, shuffling feet, and itchy fingers -- and time on his hands -- would do: he recorded new songs and re-recorded others, so the thing would have some kind of elasticity yet hold its rickety bone and far-reaching sources together by means of cheap glue, chewed gum, solder, and a visionary recording engineer named Karl Derfler. The end result is this daunting triple disc divided by title and theme: disc one is "Brawlers," Waits' rock and blues record, evoking everyone from T. Rex and Johnny Burnette to Sonny Curtis and Howlin' Wolf. It's a grand thing, since he hasn't released one like this before -- the closest were Heartattack and Vine on one side and Mule Variations on the other. Travel, regret, murder, salvation, guttersnipe meditations on sorrow, and nefarious and broken-down innocent -- and nefarious -- amorous intentions are a few of the themes that run through these tunes like oil and sand. Disc two is "Bawlers," a collection of ballads, raw love songs, weepy wine tunes, wistful yet tentative hope -- in the form of floppy prayers -- and an under-the-table and wishing, bewildered, yet dead-on topical tome on the world's political situation. Disc three, entitled "Bastards," is even edgier; it's Waits hanging out there with his music and muse on the lunatic fringe of experimentation. Think Bone Machine's wilder moments and Waits' loopy standup comedy in the form of six spoken word pieces included here. Thank goodness he finally did this. If you've ever seen the man on a stage, you'll get why these are so important immediately. "Brawler" digs deep into the American roots music that has obsessed Waits since the beginning of his long labyrinthine haul. There's the frenetic rockabilly swagger that probably makes Carl Perkins and Gene Vincent shake and shimmy in their graves. One of the movie tunes, a cover of "Sea of Love," recalls its place in the film for those who've seen it. If you haven't, it's a slanted, tarnished jewel freshly liberated from antiquity. The hobo ballad "Bottom of the World" recalls old country gospel, and "Lucinda" can only be described as a gallows dance tune. The slippery hoodoo blues "Road to Peace" is the season's most timely and topical political song. "Bawlers" is the set's bridge, and it's easy to see why: it's the most accessible disc in the box. There are some of the movie tunes here, from flicks like Pollock, Big Bad Love, and Shrek 2. Other cuts, such as "Goodnight Irene," recall "Tom Traubert's Blues (Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen)" from the Small Change album; the singing protagonist here is older and more desperate, almost suicidal. Resignation displaces hope; it's a long reach into the past and expresses the void of the present. The cover of the Ramones' "Danny Says" is completely reinvented; it's one of the loneliest, most sweetly desolate of Waits' many sides. It's not all darkness, however; there are gorgeous songs here too, such as "Never Let Go" and "You Can Never Hold Back Spring," where an indomitable human spirit reins and rings true. Finally, it comes down to "Bastards." The eerie, strange, cabaret-in-a-carnival music that is Weill and Brecht's "What Keeps Mankind Alive" enlists banjos, accordion, tuba, and big bass drum as simply the means to let these twisted words out of the box. Thankfully the cover of "Books of Moses," originally by Skip Spence, is here, as is Daniel Johnston's "King Kong." Neither of these cuts resembles their original version, and Waits brings out the dark underbelly inherent in each. "Bedtime Story" is the first of the Waits monologues here. It is the repressed wish of every parent (with a sense of humor) to have the temerity to tell this kind of tale to their children when they retire. Others include a reading of Charles Bukowski's "Nirvana," the hilarious monologue "The Pontiac," and the live routine "Dog Door." Perhaps the most inviting cut here is the piano-and-horn ballad "Altar Boy," a postmodern saloon song that would make Bobby Short turn red with rage. This disc is the true mixed bag in the set: unruly, uneven, and full of feints and free-for-alls. Ultimately, the epicenter of Orphans is Waits' voice. It's many expressions, nuances, bellows, barks, hollers, open wails, roughshod croons, and midnight whispers carry these songs and monologues to the listener with authority as an open invitation into his sound world, his view of tradition, and his manner of shaping that world as something not ephemeral, but as an extension of musical time itself. As a vocalist, Waits, like Bob Dylan, embodies the entire genealogical line of the blues, jazz, local barroom bards, and traveling minstrels in the very grain of his songs. That wily throat carries not only the songs he and his songwriting partner and wife, Kathleen Brennan, pen, but also the magnet for the sonic atmospheres that frame it. There is adventure, danger, and the sound of the previous, the forgotten, and the wished for in it. And it is that voice that links all three of these discs together and makes them partners. One cannot dismiss that even though some of these songs have appeared elsewhere, Orphans is a major work that goes beyond the origins of the material and drags everything past and present with sound and texture into a present to be presented as something utterly new, beyond anything he has previously issued. To paraphrase Ezra Pound in response to Allen Ginsberg's inquiry about what his poem "The Cantos" meant, these orphans speak for themselves.
Entertainment Weekly - Will Hermes
[Orphans] adds a truckload of characters to his dramatis personae. (A)
Los Angeles Times - Richard Cromelin
A teeming, seething menagerie too antic to be corralled, a leviathan too vast to be easily grasped.... This is one to salt away to sustain you through many winters of the soul.

Product Details

Release Date:


Album Credits

Performance Credits

Tom Waits   Primary Artist,Guitar,Percussion,Keyboards,Vocals,Pump Organ
Charlie Musselwhite   Harmonica
Dave Alvin   Guitar
Jimmy Cleveland   Trombone
Billy Higgins   Drums
Marc Ribot   Guitar
Matthew Brubeck   Bass
Ralph Carney   Saxophone
Ray Armando   Percussion
Bobby Black   Steel Guitar
Michael Blair   Percussion,Drums
Brain   Percussion
Brett Gurewitz   Guitar
Crispin Cioe   Saxophone
Bent Clausen   Banjo
Claypool   Bass
Harry Cody   Banjo
Greg Cohen   Bass
Steve Foreman   Percussion
Mitchell Froom   chamberlain
Bob Funk   Trombone
Joe Gore   Guitar
Arno Hecht   Saxophone
Art Hillery   Piano
Stephen Hodges   Percussion
Hollywood Paul Litteral   Trumpet
Trevor Horn   Bass
Mark Linkous   Bass,Guitar,Drums
Tom Nunn   Bugle
Nick Phelps   Horn
Gino Robair   Percussion
Nolan Andrew Smith   Trumpet
Francis Thumm   Piano
Leroy Vinnegar   Bass
Richard Waters   Waterphone
Ron Hacker   Guitar
Larry LaLonde   Guitar
Carla Kihlstedt   Violin
Tom Yoder   Trombone
Larry "The Mole" Taylor   Bass
Adam Lane   Bass
Dan Plonsey   Clarinet
Andrew Borger   Percussion
Jeff Sloan   Percussion
Chris Grady   Trumpet
Mike Silverman   Bass
Eric Perney   Bass
Dan Cantrell   Accordion
Ara Anderson   Trumpet
Bebe Risenfors   Clarinet
Casey Waits   Drums
Seth Ford Young   Bass
Sullivan Waits   Guitar
John F. Hammond   Harmonica
Eddie Davis Orchestra   Banjo
Anges Amar   Human Whistle
Bobby Baloo   cowbell
Guy Klesevic   Accordion
Gary Knowlton   Keyboards
Mike Knowlton   Guitar

Technical Credits

Tom Waits   Arranger,Producer
Tchad Blake   Engineer
Brett Gurewitz   Engineer
Biff Dawes   Engineer
Karl Derfler   Remixing
Oz Fritz   Engineer
Mitchell Froom   Engineer
Matt Mahurin   Photo Enhancement
Bob Musso   Engineer
Jacquire King   Engineer
Gene Cornelius   Engineer
Johnny Brewton   Art Direction
Julianne Deery   Cover Photo
Mark Howard   Engineer
Bernd Bergdorg   Engineer

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Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
One of the most intriguing aspects of Tom Waits is his way of painting a picture. Sometimes beautiful, sometimes ugly but over all filled with emotion and genius. Now being able to see his influences and hidden jems it makes you understand him more as an artist. All songs historically we know are from the heart. Now we get to see what was held in his heart. From a long time fan and admirer, I tip my hat to you sir.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've heard a few tracks off of the CD's in this package, and if they are any indication as to the quality of the rest of the material, this is a MUST BUY for any Waits fan. And if you aren't a fan, why not get started?
Guest More than 1 year ago
An incredible album, buy it now, unless you are one of those people who'll dismiss an entire body of music because of the voice the man has. Then you may be prone to write a bad review of it on the internet without listening to the actual music.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Someone suggested I listen to Tom Waits. I had never heard any of his music befor so I gave it a listen. Well, I wish I had never listened to him. He has the worst voice. I cannot believe this is the guy people were telling me about. Don't waste you time.