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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Random Album Review: Nighthawks at the Diner by Tom Waits

[Repost from Old Site]
To those of you who know Tom Waits, I doubt it comes a s a huge surprise that this is my favorite album he ever did.  It's a moment in his career where his vast musical influences were distilled into something memorable, artistic and accessible.  To those of you who aren't familiar with Tom Waits, a few brief preliminaries.
[audio:|titles=06 Tom Waits - Eggs and Sausage (In a Cadillac with Susan Michelson)]
Tom Waits came of age on the fringes of the Beat Generation, a loose association of poets, writers, singers and jazz musicians with a flair for anti-establishment lifestyles and the artistic expression thereof.  Tom Waits himself didn't start recording until the early 70's, however, so he isn't officially considered part of the Beat Generation, whose activities were mostly centered in the 50's and 60's.  Waits does, however, reflect their style well, and manages to distill it into something less political, more comprehensible and completely unique.
The first thing anyone notices about Waits is his voice.  It sounds like decades of cigarettes and whiskey filtered over a steady diet of asphalt and tree bark.  His distinctive croak lends itself well to the vocal jazz/blues that make up much of his work, but it also gets a riotous showcase in his latter-day pirate/circus/freakshow music.  It's hard to pin the man to a genre, he just is  Tom Waits.
Nighthawks at the Diner is a live album containing all previously unreleased material.  Most songs feature a rambling preamble from Waits that gives you the authentic feel of being in a diner in the wee hours of some drunken evening, listening to some unsung genius pour his twisted heart out on the linoleum floor.  Through a haze of greasy steam and cigarette smoke, Waits croons about everything from lost loves to booze-soaked evenings alone, from questionable meals in divey restaurants to romantic "dates" with himself.  It's an uncommon record from an uncommon artist, and nowhere is his individual style clearer or better presented.  His ability to paint images into your head through deft word choice, sincerity and clarity are paralleled by none in any era, in any genre.
Waits feels to me like an urban Johnny Cash, and this is his Live at Folsom Prison.

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