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Music reviews - 12-20-06 

This week, new CDs by Tom Waits, Fats Waller, Gwen Stefani, and And You Will Know Us by the Trail of the Dead

Untitled Document


Tom Waits
Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, & Bastards

With his reverence for the antiquated you would think Tom Waits would feel welcomed by any genre or period he visits; those often forgotten, neglected, misunderstood, maligned aspects of our culture. Waits gives a voice to it all. And yet he comes across as if he’s rummaging or pillaging. The resulting loot --- a combo platter of previously unreleased tracks and new gems --- can be found on his new three-disc, 54-song CD, Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, & Bastards. For Waits fans this is a wet dream, a treasure trove of jazz, waltzes, gut-bucket blues, melodies, maladies, spoken-word, romance, and oddball ruminations rendered by Waits’ highly unconventional marriage of cacophony and melody. There simply is no time period to pigeonhole this man into --- including today.

This album is textbook Waits, both sonically and philosophically. Orphans is like a musically subversive glimpse through a sepia-toned lamplight. It is romantic, ironic, contrary, and ferocious.

An impressive roster of Waits acolytes shows up for the affair, including Charlie Musselwhite, Dave Alvin, John Hammond, and Les Claypool. The pieces and contributions penned by Leadbelly, The Ramones, Charles Bukowski, and Jack Kerouac blend seamlessly with Waits’ work, for he is a classic before, ahead, and of his time. Orphans is simply fantastic. Bury me with this record.

--- Frank De Blase



Fats Waller
If You Got To Ask, You Ain’t Got It

Dig back into the bedrock of jazz and you’ll find a mere handful of innovative geniuses. At the top of the list (alongside Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton) is brilliant pianist, singer, and composer Fats Waller. The 66 selections on this new three-disc compilation include all of his greatest works: “Honeysuckle Rose,” “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “The Jitterbug Waltz,” and “The Joint Is Jumpin’.” There are also numerous interpretations of standards like “Dinah,” “Star Dust,” and “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter.” The performances, recorded between 1926 and Waller’s death in 1943 at the age of 39, range from absolutely dazzling stride piano solos to his work with small groups and larger ensembles. When Waller plays, his fingers glide across the keys with the freedom of a world-class gymnast. When he sings, his exuberant personality takes center stage. A 100-page book of essays and photos is included.

--- Ron Netsky





Gwen Stefani
The Sweet Escape

Nothing like a half-baked, luke-warm collection of leftover tunes to hold fans over until No Doubt finally gets back together. Stefani attempts to re-create the fun, bombastic Love.Angel.Music.Baby, but fails. At best, she shows on a few cuts that her voice can ably wrap itself around a song (“Early Winter,” “The Sweet Escape”), but far more often it falls flat.

I’ve never really bought Gwen as a “club thumper.” “Hollaback Girl” worked, but she couldn’t do it twice. “Wind It Up” is OK, but “Now That You Got It” and “Yummy” are pretty awful, even if you can ignore the rancid lyrics.

Stefani is most grating when she references her a) fame, b) success, or c) clothing line, L.A.M.B., and she does it repeatedly through this disc. I don’t need you to remind me how much money or how many Grammy’s you’ve got, Gwen.

Lack of fun, lack of energy, lack of creativity….it’s just lacking.

--- Todd Rezsnyak



And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead
So Divided

There are moments in ...Trail of the Dead’s fifth album, So Divided, wherein a cringe does not seem unwarranted. Moments that make us glad to be listening alone.

Yet if we welcome So Divided we will revel in its intensity, loud with defiance like only this band can be loud. We will be engaged, escorted into anthems hoping to stir us. We can play the sucker for the soft, brief calm of piano or accordion and play it again for the stomping glory of the band.

So Divided suffers its missteps, but at stretches achieves the grandeur it hopes to. “Eight Days of Hell” is a battle hymn marching through midnight. “Naked Sun” is dirty pool hall rock but, with its fluttering keyboards, also mystical.

As the title suggests, the album is fragmentary; it forgets where it came from. But it sometimes knows where it’s going, and then the sheen will give way and make the anthems grander. And then, how does it go? “I fall to pieces...”

--- Joel Chaffee




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