Tom Waits - Real Gone
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Nov. 16, 2004
Review by Tony BonyataTom Waits has done it again. On his latest disc Real Gone, the singer / songwriter has produced yet another challenging effort that moves beyond what he's explored before, as he delves into the dark depths of the human soul - both lyrically and musically.
He does this not only through tales of murder, death and redemption set to sinister sonnets and gutbucket blues stripped to the bone, but also with a production that is so raw, organic and volatile that it seems almost unfathomable that any of these sixteen songs could have possibly been created in more than just one take. And it's this spontaneous combustion that fuels this creative, creaky, creepy jalopy know as Tom Waits.
Waits is aided by accomplices Marc Ribot and Larry Taylor, whose startling guitars lunge from behind dusty mixes without a moment's notice, while the same instruments at other times take on the unlikely guises of kazoos, raving baboons and faint human cries from the apocalypse. Primus bassist Les Claypool's odd phrasings are also added to the psycho-blues of "Shake It" and the Captain Beefheart-inspired "Baby Gonna Leave Me," while Waits' own son Casey not only adds drums and percussion but also incorporates hip-hop-laced turntable scratchings on the opening gem "Top of the Hill," sounding as if the direct lineage of rap music could be traced back to Howlin' Wolf a half a century ago.
Perhaps the most startling change on Real Gone, however, is the omission of Waits' signature piano, as well as any other keyboards for that matter. As it turns out, though, this actually helps put more of a focus on both the rickety, spring-loaded, clap-trap arrangements and Waits' own unique chewing tobacco & spittle-soaked groans, yelps and howls. And just when you thought his voice couldn't get any closer to the soul of early rural American folk music (or the devil himself, for that matter), it sounds as if he's drowned his pipes in a jug of rot-gut moonshine before tossing them from the back of a '48 Chevy pick-up and burying any evidence of sweet timbre in a shallow ditch of soil and soot.
Waits may claim that he can "turn a Rolls Royce into a chicken coup," but this wonderfully rough-hewn effort (crowded with characters such as Skinny Bones Jones, Knocky Parker, Bowlegged Sal, along with Waits himself traversing from locales such as Memphis, Vicksburg, Liverpool, Rockford and Sheboygan) proves just the opposite.
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