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Tom Waits for no one 

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'Real Gone' is right on time

On Real Gone, the brilliant, moody and always unpredictable Tom Waits launches into 16 tracks connected by his familiar themes of woe, misery, defeat, forgiveness and redemption. In a departure from the kind of piano-driven pieces most recently found on the hauntingly beautiful Alice, there's no ivory to tickle here. Instead, Waits builds a number of the heavy percussive tracks upon low-fi recordings of his own human beatbox. He uses grunts, gurgles, whistles and pops to make up the rhythmic backing of the disc, lending it a visceral, organic feel at once uniquely its own while remaining completely in sync with his experimentation (and deconstruction) of the form over the last two decades.

And, as with so much else that Waits (along with Kathleen Brennan, his wife and creative partner) has created, the material soars. The transcendent "Day After Tomorrow" is not only this album's strongest piece, but one of the most poignant, critical, and gentle numbers in Waits' catalog. Like a modern-day folk singer, Waits tells the story from the point of view of a weary soldier ready to return home. The piece alludes to Bush's war in Iraq, but by eschewing any overt references to current events it retains a timelessness which, unfortunately, makes it relevant for the inevitable wars to come.

CD Spotlight

Real Gone
Tom Waits
(Anti-)
"Sins of the Father" is a 10-minute rumination which anchors the emotional core of Real Gone by questioning his relationship with an uncaring God, while calling attention to abuses of power. "Dead and Lovely" begs for inclusion on the soundtrack to some not-yet-created film noir, as Marc Ribot's Afro-Cuban potosino guitar hooks, tinged with bluesy nuances, conjure up images of smoky rooms, femme fatales and wrong turns. And on "Green Grass," Waits' narrator sings from beyond the grave: "Lay your head where my heart used to be/hold the earth above me/lay down in the green grass/remember when you loved me."

The album's few misfires (an agreeable-but-rambling opening track "Top of the Hill," "Metropolitan Glide," the uncredited bonus track "Chick A Boom") distract, but cause little damage. They're playful indulgences, intrusive enough to suggest that the uninitiated might fare better with one of Waits' other recent recordings (the aforementioned Alice, Blood Money, its companion release, or 1999's Mule Variations). Still, for those in the know, Real Gone is right on time.

By Alejandro Pérez


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March 25, 2020

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