New coat of paint

“Come On Up To The House: Women Sing Waits,”
is available at Dualtone Music Group.

Tom Waits is an acquired taste (just ask Pat O’B), but Allison Moorer finds him delicious.

Moorer and several other female artists, working with producer Warren Zanes, have released an album of Waits covers titled “Come On Up To The House: Women Sing Waits.”

They lay a sweet, smooth coat of Sherwin-Williams over that weatherbeaten Waits structure, which Zanes describes with all due respect as a “trash-can aesthetic,” and it works beautifully in the cuts I’ve heard.

Roseanne Cash performs a gently reimagined “Time,” one of the Waits songs I like to play badly on guitar. Iris Dement, a frequent John Prine collaborator, takes a deep, Dolly Parton country dive into “The House Where Nobody Lives.” And Patty Griffin’s take on “Ruby’s Arms” strips the original of its instrumental fat and gets right down to the bone.

In an interview on NPR’s “Weekend Edition Saturday,” Scott Simon quotes Moorer describing Waits as “a fully integrated artist who seemingly sees the whole picture at once and knows how to present it so that we do too.”

“He does seem to draw up marginal characters a lot — people who are either stuck in life or we don’t consider them people that we see,” Moorer said. “He exposes the everyday.”

Zanes hopes the album will unearth the lyrical voice that for some may be inextricable from the “grit and the growl” that characterizes Waits’s delivery.

“I think over the years he went deeper into the back of the cave, and sometimes I think people fail to see the very classic nature of the songs because of that ‘trash can’ aesthetic,” he told Simon.

“We viewed it as, ‘His 70th birthday is coming, and it’s a feast day, and we’re gonna take these songs and we’re gonna give them all the sweetness that we can.’ There’s something about the female voice that’s associated with a kind of vulnerability and a kind of emotion that we really wanted to breathe in these songs.”

Meanwhile, here’s the original “Ruby’s Arms,” the closer to 1980’s “Heartattack and Vine.” I was alone and miserable in Tucson when I trudged down Orange Grove Road to some anonymous Oracle Road music shop to buy this one. Still have it, too.

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11 Responses to “New coat of paint”

  1. Pat O'Brien Says:

    Well, we are both 70 this year. And even though his singing is, well, the trash can aesthetic to my ear, his talent is obvious, and I need to look into his songs. By the way, he still sings better than I do.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      These folks basically get it right: He’s a storyteller who works in music rather than publishing.

      Lines like: “When you’re east of East St. Louis, and the wind is making speeches, and the rain sounds like a round of applause” would be a keeper in anyone’s book. Ditto “And it’s a battered old suitcase to a hotel someplace and a wound that will never heal.”

      I was surprised that his wife and collaborator Kathleen Brennan didn’t get a little love in this interview. I think she gets a lot of the credit for breaking him loose of the whole dissolute back-alley troubador routine, which carried him through the first half-dozen or so albums.

      • SAO’ Says:

        Did anyone ever verify whether “bottle in front of me/frontal lobotomy” was his line or Martin Mull’s? (TW definitely said it, but MM wrote line for a lot of guests.)

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        No idea. I think Waits is basically a big ol’ sponge, sucking up everything and then squeezing it out again later on. I do the same thing, only less successfully. I lifted “You must be reading my mail” from him, but God only knows where he got it.

        You’ll find a few amusing Waitsisms under the “Wit & Wisdom” section of his website. For instance: “Most of the things you absorb you will ultimately secrete.”

  2. larryatcycleitalia Says:

    We love the theme song for “The Wire”. The guy’s an original, love him or hate him, though I dunno if I could listen to an entire album of his songs.

  3. Tony Geller Says:

    Having acquired a taste for Waits in ’75, I thank you for bringing this to my attention. But Waits and Midler meeting in a bar? Seems inevitable (What they gave me a f-ing chihuahua).

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