Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Tom Waits - Blue Valentine

Seeing as this is my favorite Tom Waits record, I don't see how I have missed talking about it until now, but that is what my blogger search is telling me. Of course, I don't trust that SOB, so I may be repeating myself. Such is life...

I believe that this was the first Waits album that I picked up - it was the late 70's and I was buying whatever I could afford that looked different and interesting. I was into "punk" and "new wave" as well as older styles of music - I was just bored with the current "rock" bands and AM radio pap. Waits' jazz/blues stylings appealed to me immediately as to me he sounded like a beat generation book set to music!

The opener here is a bit odd, though - a jazz/lounge run-through of "Somewhere" from West Side Story - a bit sappier than most of Tom's original work and not really suited or his voice. But from there on, every song is stellar. Tom knows how to set a scene and "Red Shoes By the Drugstore" emulates the sound of windshield wipers as he talks of street characters in the rain in Hollywood where nothing is ever resolved - just like in real life!

But in "Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis" he does tell a pretty straight-forward tale (though far longer than could fit on most cards!) of a whore trying to convince an ex - and herself - that her life is going well, filled with great imagery set to a simple piano accompaniment. Things get darkly swinging in "Romeo is Bleeding" with its sweet organ, sax, stand-up bass, drums, and jazzy guitar and again, Tom tells a very LA-centric story of a Mexican gang leader who got wounded in a shoot-out with a cop but it too macho to let on. Terrific sax solo on this one!

He sings the blues in "$29.00" with guitar and piano trading licks to a slow, groovy backing and he picks it up somewhat in "Wrong Side of the Road" with its incessant, mid-tempo beat, wailing sax and mini-movie about roustabouts up to no good. By the time he gets to "Whistlin' Past the Graveyard" he's moving pretty fast, as if he can't wait to get past it and this feel is similar to early r'n'r that came from horn-driven jazz and r'n'b. But he brings it back down to a piano ballad for "Kentucky Avenue" where he reminisces about his childhood and friends and foes from that time.

We come back to a swinging, brushes-on-the-drums-groove of "A Sweet Little Bullet from a Pretty Blue Gun" with some good dynamics and nice guitar licks. The record closes with a quiet guitar playing jazz chords as Waits sings about his "Blue Valentine" - really effective and evocative in its simplicity.

To me, this is when Waits really came into his own though I know it was a character - but man, what a character! And it was one he lived - his home was a room at the Tropicana, he wore old suits and drank at dive bars and sang songs of the people he would meet in the street. It was all very real to me. I understand that his later work is more original but these songs just knock me out. Give a listen if you only know his noisy side - his beat generation identity is the essence of cool jazz/blues.