Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Hang Down Your Head

Song: Hang Down Your Head
Artist: Tom Waits
Album: Rain Dog

My introduction to Tom Waits came through his work as an actor in such films as “Short Cuts,” “Down By Law,” & “Bram Stokers Dracula.” I knew that he was also a singer but didn’t quite understand or know the vastness of his career. Because of some ridiculous sale through a CD by Mail club I was in I got 1992’s “Bone Machine” for like $2, and it quickly became one of my favorite records. “Bone Machine” won Waits a Grammy for “Best Alternative Album” and it truly is an “alternative album.” It’s ugly, free-wheeling, and definitely not for everyone’s tastes. As a matter of fact, a good friend of mine referred to Tom as “that singer you like with throat cancer.” Nice.

Waits started his career in the early 70’s releasing the brilliant debut “Closing Time” in 1973. “Closing Time” featured the beautiful ballad “Ol’55” which the Eagles covered and made a moderate hit. He quickly released album after album through the 70’s and built a very strong cult following for his off-kilter singing, poetic lyrics, and most likely for just being like nobody else out there. He took a creative turn with 1983’s “Swordfishtrombone” an absolute mess of an album in the best ways possible. This continued with my favorite, 1985’s “Raindogs.” This is an album filled with one great song after another including the title track, “Time,” “Jockey Full of Bourbon,” and “Downtown Train,” which Rod Stewart covered and became one of his bigger hits of the 80’s. “Hang Down Your Head” is my absolute favorite Tom Waits song, fragile and beautiful, it is also the one song on the album co-written by his long time wife and frequent collaborator, Kathleen Brennan. Brennan has gone on to produce many of his subsequent albums.

I can’t recommend “Rain Dogs” enough, and if you can get past the gruff vocals and sporadic arrangements, you will find much to love. He’s never been as hailed as say a Bob Dylan, but I have a feeling that in time he will get his complete due of respect from the public once his music is properly discovered. Late last year Tom released the three disc “Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, & Bastards” which was a career spanning collection of unreleased material. Not typical of these types of collections as they are usually meant for hard-core fans, “Orphans” garnered him some of the best reviews of his career with come critics claming it stands with the best of his entire catalog. I haven’t had a chance to hear it yet, but it is certainly on my list.


Here is the video for Tom’s version of Downtown Train:

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