Bad as Me [Digipak]
Performer: Tom Waits
Engineer: Karl Derfler...
Notes: Audio Mixer: Karl Derfler. Recording information: Rabbit Foot Studio. Photographers: Jesse Dylan; Tom Waits. Bad as Me is Tom Waits' first collection of new material in seven years. He and Kathleen Brennan -- wife, co-songwriter, and production partner -- have, at the latter's insistence, come up with a tight-knit collection of short tunes, the longest is just over four minutes. This is a quick, insistent, and woolly aural road trip full of compelling stops and starts. While he's kept his sonic experimentation -- especially with percussion tracks -- Waits has returned to blues, rockabilly, rhythm & blues, and jazz as source material. Instead of sprawl and squall, we get chug and choogle. For "Chicago" -- via Clint Maedgen's saxes, Keith Richards' (who appears sporadically here) and Marc Ribot's guitars, son Casey Waits' drums, dad's banjo, percussion and piano, and Charlie Musselwhite's harmonica (he appears numerous times here, too) -- we get a 21st century take on vintage R&B. Indeed, one can picture Big Joe Turner fronting this clattering rush of grit and groove, and this album is all about groove. Augie Meyers appears on Vox organ and Flea on bass to guide Waits' tablas and vocals on "Raised Right Men," a 12-bar stagger filled with delightful lyrical clich�s from an America that has passed on into myth -- Waits does nothing to de-mystify this; he just makes it greasy and danceable. The slow, spooky "Talking at the Same Time" is still in blues form albeit with ska-styled horns to make things more exotic, as Waits waxes about the current state of economic affairs. He showcases history's circular nature as he bridges our national narrative from 1929-1941, and up to the present day: "Well it's hard times for some/For others it's sweet/Someone makes money when there's blood in the street...Well we bailed out all the millionaires/They got the fruit/We got the rind..." Rockabilly rears its head on "Get Lost," with David Hidalgo strutting a solid '50s guitar snarl above the horns. Dawn Harms' violin and Patrick Warren's keyboards add textural dimension to Hidalgo's and Ribot's arid guitars on the apocalyptic blues of "Face to the Highway," with Waits offering startling, contrasting images in gorgeous rhymes. This track, and the two proceeding ones -- the forlorn carny ballad "Pay Me" and the wasted lover's plea in the West Texas mariachi of "Back in the Crowd" -- set up the latter half of the record, where there are more hard-edged blues and rockers, such as the spiky stomping title track, the cracked guitar ramble in "Satisfied," and the clattering, percussive anti-war rant "Hell Broke Luce" (sic). Between each of these songs are ballads. In the jazzy nightclub blues of "Kiss Me" and the country-ish folk of "Last Leaf" lie lineage traces to Waits' earliest material: the latter features Richards in a delightfully ruined vocal duet. Indeed, even the set-closer "New Year's Eve," with Hidalgo's guitars and accordion in one of Waits' signature saloon songs, quotes from "Auld Lang Syne" in the song's waning moments to send the platter off on a bittersweet, nostalgic note, reminding the listener of Waits' use of "Waltzing Matilda" in "Tom Traubert's Blues" all those years ago. Brennan's instincts were dead-on: it was time for a set of brief, tightly written and arranged songs -- something we haven't actually heard from Waits. Bad as Me is an aural portrait of all the places he's traveled as a recording artist, which is, in and of itself, illuminating and thoroughly enjoyable. ~ Thom Jurek
Rolling Stone (p.76) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "At its heart are electric guitars. Marc Ribot's jagged, Cuban-tinged riffs have helped define Waits' sound since the 1980s." Rolling Stone (p.70) - Ranked #23 in Rolling Stone's '50 Best Albums Of 2011' -- "Tom Waits sings in a heartbreaking growl on this vocally dynamic, emotionally direct album, one of his best." Spin (p.76) - "BAD AS ME burns at fuse speed, beginning with 'Chicago,' which sounds like it starts in the middle..." Entertainment Weekly (p.73) - "One thing you cant' fake: Wait's personal universe, full of carnies, dust, tears, whiskey, and hope. And yes, a whole lot of growling." -- Grade: A- Alternative Press (p.98) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "BAD AS ME works as Waits' 'greatest methods collection, encapsulating familiar m.o.'s as fractured grooves, rough-hewn, smoky yearning, dive-bar juke-joint shuffles, backstreet swagger and existentialist-loser paeans." Magnet (p.45) - Ranked #2 in Magnet's '20 Best Albums Of 2011' -- "Waits is a hands-on technician; he rips the tires off the car and burns the rubber down." Magnet (p.51) - "BAD AS ME sounds like a welcome echo of RAIN DOGS' spellbinding urban magic realism." The Wire (p.68) - "The love songs are chastened, the anger is tar-black but contained, the verbal play not done for show but intimate, a gift to another....BAD AS ME might be his best ever." Mojo (Publisher) (p.90) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "[I]t's a kick to hear him serving the needs of his songs without dressing them up in identical work clothes....BAD AS ME is alive with some of his greatest yet." Record Collector (magazine) (p.93) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "BAD AS ME is shot through with rockabilly verve; 'Get Lost' bursts with youthful abandon, as if releasing the pent-up urges of a generation of 50s teens..." Uncut (magazine) (p.78) - "BAD AS ME is the sound of a supremely confident artist convening a raucous celebration of his own myth, and is multifariously marvelous." Uncut (magazine) (p.34) - Ranked #13 in Uncut's '50 Best Albums Of 2011' -- "Exuberant, tender, truly idiosyncratic, Wait's first album of new songs in seven years was a stunner."
Tom Waits started out in the early 1970s as a piano-based barroom balladeer with a penchant for beat poetry and West Coast jazz. By the late '80s he had mutated into a brilliantly adventurous artist whose style suggested an amalgam of Howlin' Wolf, Kurt Weill, and Captain Beefheart. Ever the theatrical figure, Waits also found success as an actor in several films. He's also worked on numerous theatrical/musical projects with avant-garde theater king Robert Wilson. Though generally regarded as a cult artist, he's widely respected, and everyone from Rod Stewart to the Eagles to the Ramones has covered his songs.
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