CD Reviews

Tom’s Orphanage: Bawlers


For those of you who haven’t read the first review in this series: the idea is to review this album by listening to each song only once. This gives me almost no time to think. I just jot down my thoughts as the music plays on. Why? Because it’s fun and because I may repeat this experiment at some point, just to see whether I will hear, like, or note different things then. Here we go:

Bend down the Branches: Well this is something new! A short lullaby, very delicate and sweet with improvized and dissonant counterpoint. Charles Seeger would be amazed!

You can never hold back Spring: Banjo, Clarinett, out of tune piano, brushed snare drum, trumpet, trombone, and everything played softly. This instrumentation sounds like fall: rain, fogg, and temperatures below 10° C and yet Mr. Waits sings about spring. Wonderful.

Long Way Home: A howling duet between Tom’s voice and a lonesome trumpet near the end of the song, right before the refrain comes back for the last time: makes you feel homesick.

Widow’s Grove: Irish waltz. Pretty straight forward, but there is a freezing violin tremolo in this wonderfully drawn out bridge before the refrain! During the refrain that tremolo thing is now taken over by a balalaika (or what the hell is that?). Absolutely stunning! Here comes the bridge again, this time it’s a different motive in the violin. I love this song and I will buy an accordion as soon as possible!

Little Drop of Poison: “I like my town with a little drop of poison.” Hehe. The singing saw is back, and the marimba!! Yes, I love this instrumentation. This is a tango with the melody of a Strauß waltz. Cool, now we’re up one step, harmonically I mean. There is also this klezmer feel. A klezmerized tango by Strauß. Cool…

Shiny Things: That rhythm is strange but I cannot figure out what’s going on from listening to it only once… I’ll get back to this some other time.

World Keeps Turning: The intro keeps on turning, too: in harmonic spirals down to the wide and dark entry of Waits’ voice. Nice contrast with the high piano line (this time in tune!). Gets boring soon… too much repetition.

Tell It To Me: High, almost clear voice, stringy sound, simple melody and harmony. I like it that once can hear the tapping of the musicians’ feet and the background noises of their fingers on the fretboards.

Never Let Go: Oh no, this one is just too much cliche! Does Waits have a sponsoring contract with the Irish Folk Song Union?

Fannin Street: One of these songs you can sing along although you haven’t heard it yet. And this is not a bad thing to say. Not necessarily…

Little Man: This is a nice song, and Waits is trying hard to sing it nicely. There is a detective novel saxophone solo and a I-don’t-care-about-it-anymore-piano-bar-accompaniment.

It’s Over: The same detective band as above, only a few drinks later.

If I have to go: Again one of these incredible ballads. Reminds me of Johnsburg, Illinois on Swordfishtrombones. If have to admit that I pressed the repeat button on my Rhapsody player. This is just too beautiful. Waits’ voice has actually quite a big ambitus. This is a short song, about 2 mins. It’s basically a long melody in two contrasting parts (first one gong up, second one going down). This melody is reaped twice and at the end Waits sings the first half of it again, and then it’s all over. Quite simple, quite wonderful.

Goodnight Irene: Screaming, accordion, drunken choir. Listen to this only when in good company.

The Fall of Troy: I often wonder how these songs come into being. Does he invite a couple of people to his living room to try out things? Do they make up songs on the spot? Some sound like that, others are more like fully crafted compositions. (Ah, by the way: nice ending…)

Take Care of All My Children (who are playing the horns in the background of this song by the way)

Down there by the Train: I guess I should have paid attention to the lyrics…

Danny Says: Slightly disorganized guitar introduction. Crazy modulations.

Jayne’s Blue Wish: Hah! I like this. A lazy guitar accompaniment and untypical chords for Tom Waits.

Young at Heart: That Hawai guitar kills me! The whistle solo brings me back to life again, but it feels more like coming back from drinking a cup of tea with the undead on the Bahamas. Or something….


4 comments for “Tom’s Orphanage: Bawlers”

  1. re: widow’s grove, the thing like a balalaika is probably a cittern, it like a lower-[itched irish ukelele i guess, not so dissimilar from a balalaika,


    Posted by gary quinn | January 5, 2007, 1:27 am
  2. Thanks a lot, Gary for your help!


    Posted by Matthias Röder | January 8, 2007, 8:19 pm
  3. Hi
    I think you got it in one – If I Have To Go is one of those stunning little songs short, but absolutely complete – like Take Me Home, which is only one minute but again complete & perfect as a song. Like you I pressed repeat it about 20 times – I need to work out the chords – its too good not to try.

    By the way is it only us Irish people who respond to Tom Waites?

    Posted by Alan Nolan | January 16, 2007, 9:27 pm
  4. A friend of mine once sent me a bootleg called “Rats and Angry Flowers.” The first fourteen tracks are live, but there are some recordings from a radio interview at the end.

    One of the radio tracks is a version of “Fall of Troy” where it is just Tom and a piano. It is very good and was the only one I’d ever heard until Orphans came out. Waits describes it as “kind of an obscure one.”

    Highly recommended listening if you can track it down.

    Posted by Neil Brown | February 15, 2007, 12:30 pm

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