Friday, January 24, 2014

Music Library: Tom Petty, Tom T. Hall, Tom Verlaine, Tom Waits, Tom Zé


Tom Petty - Southern Accents (with The Heartbreakers, 1985), Wildflowers (1994), and Anthology: Through The Years (with The Heartbreakers, 1976-2000). I'm not much of a Petty fan. I mean, I like "Don't Come Around Here No More" from Southern Accents, and, well, not much on Wildflowers. I like a lot of Petty's early hits on Anthology, but considering their ubiquity on the radio and in culture, I'm not sure I needed a two-disc collection of those songs. And I'm not sure why I would need to post a clip featuring one of those songs.

Tom T. Hall - Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 (1968-72) and Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 (1971-75). Hall, the author of "Harper Valley P.T.A.," is a fantastic poet/story-songwriter in vein of Kris Kristofferson and Townes Van Zandt. Since I don't have any of his studio albums, I don't know how he holds up at that level, but these collections are great. I mean, the song in this clip has the hallmarks of a novelty song, but Hall stays on the right side of that line.

Tom Verlaine - Tom Verlaine (1979), Dreamtime (1981), Cover (1984), Flash Light (1987), Warm And Cool (1992), Around (2006), Songs And Other Things (2006). The frontman for Television, who I recently wrote about, Verlaine's solo career has ups and downs. The self-titled first album and Dreamtime are both excellent, with much of Television's jagged friction and some guitar workouts. The first one has a number of Television songs that the band never got around to recordings, too. Cover and Flash Light are both a little lackluster and marred by some serious 80s production crap. Warm And Cool is all instrumental, and I like Tom's shut up and play your guitar phase. The music evokes Link Wray and surf bands with the distinctness of Verlaine's unique style. Verlaine was recording with the re-formed Television the same year, and then there was more than a decade of silence from the man. Around and Songs dropped the same day in 2006 with the former an all-instrumental affair while the latter is has songs with lyrics. Both are quite good.

Tom Waits: Let's break this up a bit.

The Early Years, Vol. 1 (1971), The Early Years, Vol. 2 (1971), Closing Time (1973). The Early Years albums only came out years later, but they are of a piece with Closing Time, a document of Waits's folkie period. While there's a lot of clever songs here, even on early acoustic versions of "Diamonds On My Windshield," you can hear how Waits is striving to become himself, but not quite there. If he'd never progressed beyond the honeyed-oak voice and winking sentimentalism, he would have been Billy Joel.

The Heart Of Saturday Night (1974). Waits's second album, The Heart of Saturday Night, kicked off with "New Coat Of Paint," a statement of purpose if ever there was one. The music was jazzy, the lyrics like Beat poetry, and the songwriting bled all over the stereo. Waits dropped the sentiment for a lovely fatalism. My favorite from Heart is "Shiver Me Timbers," because I have the soul of an Ishmael.

Nighthawks at the Diner (1975). Nighthawks was recorded with studio audience to capture the comedy-show patter of Waits's evolving live show. Waits is still mining the jazzy sound, but the songs are almost country. Waits's voice had started to develop his trademark Louis Armstrong-howling grit. Fascinating stuff.

Small Change (1976), Foreign Affairs (1977), Blue Valentine (1978), Romeo Is Bleeding: Live In Sydney Australia (bootleg, 1979). Waits's jazz-Beat-nostalgia don't-call-it-rock hit a fever pitch with Small Change and its very slightly lesser cousin Foreign Affairs, then mutated to become more and more bluesy through Blue Valentine. Romeo Is Bleeding captures Waits's almost-a-play stage show of the time, but his classic performance on Austin City Limits is an ever better document. The first clip here is "Tom Traubert's Blues," my favorite of his 70s songs, and the first track on Small Change. The second is the beginning of his ACL appearance with words from Foreign Affair's absolutely perfect death ballad "Burma Shave."

Heartattack And Vine (1980), One From The Heart (with Crystal Gayle, 1982). Heartattack is positioned right between jazzbo Tom and the kitchen-sink Tom that was coming into being. It never really settles anywhere. One From The Heart is the soundtrack to the notorious Coppola flop. Waits is trying to please a theoretical audience that wants to hear big band numbers while trying to please himself with heavy percussion tracks like "You Can't Unring A Bell," and the album is even more lost than Heartattack.

Swordfishtrombones (1983), Rain Dogs (1985), Franks Wild Years (1987), Big Time (1988), Night On Earth Soundtrack (1992). Here Waits slipped into a completely new persona, an outgrowth of Jazzbo Tom into Tom Of The Kitchen-Sink Blues where German cabaret music collided with tango and blues and clanky percussion and Waits's carnivalesque dancing bear voice. Swordfishtrombones starts the revolution, but Rain Dogs is the best album here. Franks Wild Years has good songs but also some filler, Big Time is a fun live document, and Night On Earth is a lackluster affair mostly made of instrumentals.

Bone Machine (1992), The Black Rider (1993), Mule Variations (1999), Alice (2002), Blood Money (2002). Waits's blues turned harrowing on Bone Machine, a gloriously bleak album, one of my all-time favorites, and those themes continued through Mule Variations. Both of these albums bring the death ballads to the fore, although they continue with his obsession with the forgotten, unwanted, and just plain weird. The Black Rider, a collaboration with playwright Robert Wilson, is sort of a dry-run for the later, much better albums Alice and Blood Money.

Real Gone (2004), Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards (released 2006 and 2009), tracks from Healing The Divide (with Kronos Quartet, 2007), Glitter And Doom: Tom Waits In Concert (2008), Bad As Me (2011). Real Gone is good-but-not-great, picking up the thread from Mule Variations and turning its attention to political blues amidst the other Waitsian themes. Orphans was a massive box set with a bunch of nonalbum tracks and demos, featuring some excellent Waits material going back to the 80s. I was fortunately enough to find the vinyl-only tracks released in 2009 online. Healing has four fun versions of Waits doing a few of his great latter-day songs backed by Kronos Quartet. Glitter and Doom is an excellently-titled live album and a great document of Waits's 2008 tour, and Bad As Me shows that the old man is still going strong with this persona, even as he turns his attention to his own demise.

Tom Zé - Tom Zé (1970), Se o Caso é Chorar (1972), Todos os Olhos (1973), Estudando o Samba (1975), Correio Da Estaçâo Do Brás (1978), Nave Maria (1984), Brazil Classics, Vol. 5: The Hips of Tradition (1992), Grupo Corpo: Parabelo (with Zé Miguel Wisnik, 1997), Defeito de Fabricação (1998), Live at Middle East, May 19, 1999 (bootleg, with Tortoise), Jogos de Armar (2000), Santagustin (with Gilbert Assis, 2002), Imprensa Cantada (2003), Estudando o Pagode (2005), Danç-Êh-Sá (2006), Estudando A Bossa (2008).  Zé is the oddest and most arty musician to burst out of Brazil's incredible tropicalia movement of the late 60s and early 70s. While his first two albums were interesting, he didn't really come into his own until 1973's Todos os Olhos, which fuses indigenous Brazilian music with sounds borrowed from rock and jazz and, well, everywhere.

This fusion became even more pronounced with Estudando o Samba, a concept album about samba music that employs Zé's oddball ear to levels that are astounding. Listen to how Zé builds on the parts to "Mã," with the repeating guitar part on the left playing in a slightly dissonant key, the fuzz guitar on the left playing a part that blends with the brassier horns when they come in, the call-and-response of the vocals panning left and right, the center-panned punctuation horns, the insistent beat that anchors the whole track. Utterly brilliant.

Correio and Nave Maria are both great albums that try a little harder to please, which makes them ironically less pleasing. After Nave Maria, Zé gave up on music and went to work in his brother's gas station, but fortunately for him and all of us, David Byrne of Talking Heads had become obsessed with him. We have that obsession to thank for the last Talking Heads album and Byrne's first few solo albums, and for Byrne's label Luaka Bop, which Byrne used to find Zé and get him recording again. Hips of Tradition and Defeito are both great, with the former cooking thanks to high production values and the latter a concept album of sorts about various deceptions. Parabelo comes between, and I don't know anything about it except that it is very good. The Middle East bootleg is from Zé's first US tour, which brilliantly backs him with Tortoise.

Zé's post-2000 albums have been uniformly excellent, with full-on classics in Jogos de Armar and Estudando o Pagode. All are worth seeking out. Check out this mini-documentary for Luaka Bop's three-record Estudando collection. Zé is building a song on the sound of glass being sanded at one point! DAMN, y'all! That is so amazingly cool.

OK, one more clip, two short songs in two minutes. Dig it.


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