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Real Gone

Real Gone

4.5 2
by Tom Waits

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Strange times call for strange soundtracks, which makes this an ideal moment for Tom Waits to unfurl his freak flag one more time. The 15-song Real Gone owes quite a bit to its environment -- Waits and wife/collaborator Kathleen Brennan holed up in an abandoned Mississippi schoolhouse to record the bulk of the tracks -- but the singer's woozy, always dislocated


Strange times call for strange soundtracks, which makes this an ideal moment for Tom Waits to unfurl his freak flag one more time. The 15-song Real Gone owes quite a bit to its environment -- Waits and wife/collaborator Kathleen Brennan holed up in an abandoned Mississippi schoolhouse to record the bulk of the tracks -- but the singer's woozy, always dislocated delivery prevents it from sinking into conceptual Delta mimicry. Much like Björk did on Medúlla, Waits makes his voice the focal point, and sometimes the only point, of most of the disc's tunes. He layers scat-sung lyrics over percussive pops from his own larynx on the downtrodden "Baby Gonna Leave Me" and recombines multiple layers of throat matter on the eerie "Metropolitan Glide," a sort of post-millennial descent into Kurt Weill–ish duskiness. Always one for incorporating different styles of instrumentation, Waits chooses to pepper Real Gone with thick slabs of turntable scratching, courtesy of his teenage son Casey. That backing is most effective on the album-opening "Top of the Hill" and "Hoist That Rag," a loose-limbed ditty that also benefits from a loopy guitar solo by longtime Waits cohort Marc Ribot. And while most of the album is dominated by the surreal humor that often creeps into Waits's work, its best cut may well be its most serious: "The Day After Tomorrow," a tale spun from the point of view of a soldier stationed in Iraq, hits home sans melodrama, thanks to Waits's unfailingly off-center interpretation of what little things really matter most.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Thom Jurek
On Real Gone, Tom Waits walks a fraying tightrope. By utterly eliminating one of the cornerstone elements of his sound -- keyboards -- he has also removed his safety net. With songwriting and production partner Kathleen Brennan, he strips away almost everything conventional from these songs, taking them down to the essences of skeletal rhythms, blasted and guttural blues, razor-cut rural folk music, and the rusty-edge poetry and craft of songwriting itself. His cast includes guitarists Marc Ribot and Harry Cody, bassist/guitarist Larry Taylor, bassist Les Claypool, and percussionists Brain and Casey Waits (Tom's son), the latter of whom also doubles on turntables. This does present problems, such as on the confrontational opener, "Top of the Hill." Waits uses his growling, grunting vocal atop Ribot's monotonously funky single-line riff and Casey's turntables to become a human beatbox offering ridiculously nonsensical lyrics. It's a throwaway, and the album would have been better had it been left off entirely. But it's also a canard, a sleight-of-hand strategy he's employed before. The jewels shine from the mud immediately after. The mutated swamp tango of "Hoist That Rag" has stuttered clangs and quakes for drums, decorated by distorted Latin power chords and riffs from Ribot, along with thundering deep bass from Claypool. On the ten-plus minute "Sins of My Father," Cody's spooky banjo walks with Taylor's low-strung bass and Waits' shimmering reverbed guitar as he ominously croons, revealing a rigged game of "star-spangled glitter" where "justice wears suspenders and a powdered wig." It's part revelation, part East of Eden, and part backroom political culture framed by the eve of the apocalypse. It's hunted, hypnotic, and spooky. In stripping away convention, Waits occasionally lets his songs go to extremes with absurd simplicity, such as on "Don't Go into That Barn," a musical cousin to his spoken "What's He Building?" from Mule Variations. But there's also the downright riotous squall of "Shake It," which sounds like an insane carny barker jamming with R.L. Burnside, or the riotous raging blues of "Baby Gonna Leave Me." There are "straight" narratives such as "How's It Gonna End," with its slow and brooding beat storyline, and the moving murder ballad "Dead and Lovely," with its drooping, shambolic elegance. There's the spoken word "Circus," with its wispy spindly frame that features Waits on chamberlain. And "Metropolitan Glide" feels like a hell-bent duet between James Brown and Captain Beefheart's Magic Band, followed by the fractured, busted-love, ranting-at-God pain that rips through "Make It Rain." The tender "Green Grass" is among Waits' finest broken love songs; it's movingly rendered by a character who could have resided in one of William Kennedy's novels. The set closes with "Day After Tomorrow," featured on MoveOn.org's Future Soundtrack for America. It is one of the most insightful and understated antiwar songs to have been written in decades. It contains not a hint of banality or sentiment in its folksy articulation. Real Gone is another provocative moment for Waits, one that has problems, but then, all his records do. His excesses, however, do nothing to cloud the stellar achievements of his risk-taking vision and often brilliant execution.
New York Times - Jon Pareles
Like an altar built of barbed wire, scrap metal and broken glass, "Real Gone" hammers ungraceful materials into something like beauty.
Rolling Stone - Douglas Wolk
The core of Real Gone, actually, is gospel music flipped inside out -- an unholy voice, singing about the conspicuous absence of divine mercy.

Product Details

Release Date:


  1. Top of the Hill
  2. Hoist That Rag
  3. Sins of My Father
  4. Shake It
  5. Don't Go into That Barn
  6. How's It Gonna End
  7. Metropolitan Glide
  8. Dead and Lovely
  9. Circus
  10. Trampled Rose
  11. Green Grass
  12. Baby Gonna Leave Me
  13. Clang Boom Steam
  14. Make It Rain
  15. Day After Tomorrow

Album Credits

Performance Credits

Tom Waits   Primary Artist,Guitar,Percussion,Vocals,chamberlain,Shaker
Marc Ribot   Banjo,Guitar
Mark Howard   Bells,Hand Clapping
Larry Taylor   Bass,Guitar
Claypool   Bass
Harry Cody   Banjo,Guitar
Brain   Percussion,Hand Clapping
Casey Waits   Percussion,Drums,Turntables,Hand Clapping
Kellesimone Waits   Voices,Group
Sullivan Waits   Voices,Group

Technical Credits

Tom Waits   Composer,Producer
Mark Howard   Engineer
Kathleen Brennan   Composer
Mike Richardson   Production Crew
Brennan   Producer
Casey Waits   Production Crew
Ronald M. Bean   Graphic Design
Mason Baird   Production Crew
Dylan Barlow   Production Crew
Chris Blum   Art Direction
Kellesimone Waits   Production Crew
Sullivan Waits   Production Crew

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Real Gone 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am a big tom waits fan. I have almost every album he has released, but he always manages to create something fresh and different each go-around. This album is no different. It retains a distinct tom waits sound that is in all of his music, but takes a different form than anything he has ever done. His beat boxing is actually quite a cool addition to the mix and turntables make a few tracks pretty cool. One thing that strikes me about this album is that it is pretty long, especially track number 2 which is 10:39 or something like that. Another thing is that tom waits usually sings his songs in a certain sing-a-long manor. No he doesnt sound like barney, he just usually sings in a fashion that is easy to sing along to and immitate. In the case of this album his lyrics are the hardest to understand and hardest to sing a long to. Not that everyone wants to sing a long, but he just sings in a asymmetrical way. Another thing worth noting is that there is a 16th track on the album that is short but exciting. I would highly reccomend this title
Anonymous More than 1 year ago