Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Trouble In Mind

Tom Waits is touring!!!

Actual post about one of favorite records of the year to follow the following rant.

But first, we're gonna start off today's post with a word of caution...which will lead, roundabout, into today's musical guest.

'Spect some of y'all have heard the long-simmering news that formerly interesting actress Scarlett Johansson was making an album of Tom Waits songs. Yep, hard to believe, I know. Well, the album is scheduled to drop next month. And lucky for us, they've begun streaming a few of the tunes 'round about the Internet (do a Google search, I'm not going to link it here). And the full album has leaked and fallen into the hands of this here intrepid blogger-person. We listened to it so you don't have to. Seriously.

Ms. Johansson's record, which I believe is called "Anywhere I Lay My Head", is one the vilest steaming piles of horseshit we have ever heard. Granted, covering Mr. Waits has to be a difficult chore for even the most gifted of musicians. Some have failed miserably (The Eagles, Rod Stewart, Norah Jones, and Diana Krall leap to mind immediately as artists who have stripped his music of any soul). Some have actually taken Waits' songs and made then transcendent (Springsteen can claim, fairly, "Jersey Girl" as his own and The Ramones did very well by grabbing "I Don't Want To Grow Up" and transforming it into a 3-chord punk wonder). But what Johansson does to the Waits library is beyond the pale. Imagine, if you will, the lead "singer" of The Shaggs running headlong into Nico at her most smacked-up, and then imagine something worse. Johansson has about a 1-2 note range and "sings" precisely on the beat. The musical backing is the equivalent of Yani's band meeting up with some teenage goth group. David Bowie shows up a few times on backing vocals and adds nothing but more misery to the proceedings (Tin Machine, anyone?). Pick on Waits all you want about his vocal stylings, but you'd have to admit the man adds an emotional and soulful complexity to his delivery, with an ear for sound that outstrips the casual commercial act looking to score a pop hit. Ms. Johansson and her collaborators possess none of these qualities. One would be hard-pressed to find anything remotely approaching musicianship or interpretive skill whatsoever on this forthcoming "tribute" album. The biggest sin of the record, to be honest, is that it is bland. Horribly, indescribably...bland. And considering the subject being covered, that may be the worst sin of all.

And, seriously, I don't know who the audience for this is. Even if you're not a Tom Waits fan, this is not a good record. I can't imagine the TRL crowd suddenly being converted. Can you imagine a 14-year old Justin Timberlake fan going out and picking up a Waits album based on this? The results would be hilarious to witness. And Waits fans would...well...look at my reaction. Worst album, not of the year, but of the decade. Do not buy this. You've been warned. Vile tripe.

End of Rant.

Now then, I feel bad for Hayes Carll for having to follow that rant. Cuz Carll has released one of the best albums of the year, and I'm calling it early. Oh, and he covers a Tom Waits song. Correctly.

On his record "Trouble In Mind", Carll has dropped the best modern Country album we've heard since James Hand's "The Truth Will Set You Free". Yep.

Carll's voice is the even ground between early Steve Earle nasality and James McMurtry's desert-scorched ramble, drunkenly close to alt-country affectation, but he's a Texas boy, so we'll give him the benefit of the doubt. There's something in the water in Texas (oil?) that produces brilliant songwriters with a back-porch pick and an everyman drawl. Carll is the next in line.

The first thing you notice about Carll's songs on "Trouble In Mind" is their sense of place...the wide open spaces claustrophobied into those little towns you see on exit ramp signs. The places you'd never go, but someone comes from, with escape in mind. And heading for...the next exit ramp, maybe. Drunk and disorderly, with lost love in mind and fingers clutching the stick shift on a truck that aint been paid for yet. As a matter of fact, their whole lives are shot through with IOU's, desperate for the payoff at the end of the day, or the break of morning.

Carll delivers these Carver-esque slices through a Western veneer of fiddle, pedal steel, and grit, the long drive to the roadhouse carried bleary-eyed by the promise of a cold one, a hoedown, and a honky tonk woman.

The reason the Tom Waits cover ("I Don't Want To Grow Up", linked below) works so well in Carll's hands it that he transforms the song. Putting his own spin on the tune, Carll turns it into a hoedown, a defiant two-stepper, a smart spin on Waits' original rave-up, but infusing it with a lonesome defiance amidst the stomping boots. Well done, and a smart contrast to the soulless fare we've been inundated with in recent years.

"Trouble In Mind" is an early front runner in the contest for The Mountain's Best Album of the Year. It receives our highest accolades, and is highly recommended for all regular readers 'round these parts.

Hayes Carll: Beaumont (mp3)

Hayes Carll: Drunken Poet's Dream (mp3)

Hayes Carll: I Don't Want To Grow Up (mp3)

Record players are better than CD players. It's the way the good lord intended. Just sayin'.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tip on Hayes. I saw some mention of him last week because he has Dan Baird producing and performing on the record. I am an enormous DB fan, so now after your raves and samples, I know I will pick up this disc for sure.

Tom C

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Tom Waits, you do remember the time he appeared on "Fernwood 2-Nite" and played "The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)". It can be seen on YouTube, if you're interested.


dan said...

Hayes knows how to do ballads. and make songs hurt, like no one else. You've just sold an album. And, by the way, I agree that record players are better than CD players. Music has a "pillowy" sound on vinyl. I hope a few major artists return to vinyl (at a reasonable price) to kickstart a revival. I love my turntable.

Ole5anddimer said...

Well damn..I just got blindsided by Carll..I woe you one or two..Great blog feller!

Will Divide said...

I'd say Bette Midler did a very sweet version of "Shiver Me Timbers," but that was years ago, and, besides, the wench went to Vegas.

Greg said...

Great call on Carll! I heard one track elsewhere (I believe on songs:illinois) and was immediately hooked. Thanks for these!

Dale said...

That Hayes Carll album has not left my car CD player for 3 weeks now. Great album.