Saturday, November 25, 2006

This is NOT an Orphans review (instead, it's a summary)

Tom Waits' new three disc set Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards is absolutely brilliant, and is a must-own for all fans. But most fans will be buying the compilation, so I don't need to tell you how great it is (the critics have beat me to it). My reason behind this post likely started when I saw Orphans featured on Uncut magazine's year end list for NEW releases. This made me think about whether Orphans features enough new material to be considered a new release, or whether it's best suited as a reissue. I also thought it would be useful to show the source of the officially released tracks, and also the background of some other tracks which have been featured on Waits' bootlegs in the past.

What becomes apparent right away is that Waits never shied away from soundtracks, compilations or tribute albums when the opportunity arose. Thankfully,
Orphans will save fans a lot of money, as it features seventeen tracks previously available in one of these forms. Waits also has many friends in the industry who have featured him as a guest vocalist on their albums, and five of these tracks are featured as well.

The following can be used as a guide for the previously released tracks (which also includes a b-side from the Hold On EP):

Despite never getting an official release, there are other songs on Orphans which some people know. One song, titled "Never Let Go" on Orphans, but known to fans as "I'll Never Let Go Of Your Hand", was featured in the movie American Heart. However, there was no soundtrack released, so a fan (or fans) recorded the song from a VHS version of the movie, and leaked that recording onto the internet. Despite the rather crude sound to the recording, it was magical the first time I heard it. Such desperate love and devotion sung over an out of tune piano on a crackily recording was quintessential Waits. However, there's no denying that I much prefer the cleaned up version on Orphans.

Many other songs have a similar story. The songs "Bottom Of The World" and "Down There By The Train", the latter of wihch was originally covered by Johnny Cash on American Recordings, were both featured in the Long Gone documentary. Also, "Ain't Goin' Down To The Well" was featured in the movie Freedom Highway: Songs That Shaped A Century, which I understand is a film of live performances by various artists including Waits. "Take Care Of All Of My Children" was featured in the movie, Streetwise, and has also appeared on popular bootleg compilations, A Nickel's Worth Of Dreams. Finally, "Altar Boy" was part of the 1999 bootleg Alice: The Original Demos, as part of the track titled "What Became Of Father Craft". As mentioned on the link given for Alice, the Demos' source is unknown, though the story goes that it features demos stolen from Waits' car in 1992. The bootleg came out in 1999, and the official Alice album, featuring cleaned up studio version of the tracks, came out in 2002. For fans of live theatre, the track "Shiny Things" was featured in Woyzeck, a play in which Waits provided music and lyrics. Though many of the songs from the play were later featured on Blood Money, "Shiny Things" has not seen a release until Orphans.

There are other tracks that fans will recognize, but have not sung by Waits. These are "2:19", "Fannin' Street" and "Lord I've Been Changed". All of these songs were featured on the John Hammond Jr.'s album Wicked Grin, which was produced by Waits and features all Waits covers (except "Lord I've Been Changed", which on Wicked Grin is titled "I Know I've Been Changed", a traditional song).

This leaves about twenty songs (plus two bonus tracks on Bastards) which are completely unreleased. So in the end, Uncut was only partially correct. The way I see it, Orphans could be featured on both new and reissue charts at the same time!!! And considering how consistently solid the material is on all three discs, it should rank quite high on both.


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