Tin Pan’s Yes Yes Yes – drunken-dixieland, rudo-jazz, mock’n’roll, gritty blues and Tom Waits Noiricana

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The Music and Myth starts off 2016 with a dynamic record from Tin Pan, a band that – in their own words – “originated out of an innate need for music that meets people exactly where they are, providing an immediate, pure and energetic release from the everyday routine.”

Yes Yes Yes is the band’s sixth album, a 2015 release. I’ve received it for review from composer, lead vocalist and trumpet player Jesse Selengut a few weeks ago and was planning to publish the article sooner, before a personal matter got in the way of work. Nevertheless, here it is, and the timing is great. I was actually looking for something just like this for a while now.

The sound is a mesh of what I can only describe as drunken-dixieland with a slap of rudo-jazz, a pinch of mock’n’roll and a cough of gritty blues, set against the backdrop of Tom Waits Noiricana. The band describes it as American roots music. Tomato, tomahto!

Anyhow, I knew I was going to love this record from the first chords. As has been well-documented on this website, I’m a sucker for a great opening track and “Yes Yes Yes” delivers just what it should: a five minute synopsis of the “story” (read: the narrative of the record). You immediately get the sense that Tin Pan is a well-oiled machine, a tight-knit unit extremely comfortable with the sound they’ve perfected throughout years of street performances all over NYC (most notably in Central Park, the band’s apparent “base of operations”).

The driving creative force is Selengut, whose expressive vocals and natural charisma are supported by a stellar band, in which every player adds his personal flavor, contributing to a beautifully homogenized sound. Towards the end of the first track – roughly around the time the preacher, sister and the chicken started doing the eagle rock and then the boogaloo (seriously, you need to check this out!) – I was already a fan of the sound, on my way to becoming a fan of the album.

I must have listened to the title track a dozen times (and the part with Sean E Z Cronin’s bass solo a few extra times) before moving on to track number two, “Lord Help Me Now, delivered in the same extroverted vein and once again spearheaded by Selengut’s spot-on vocals.

The record peaks early with the intense “In A Van”. This murky, gravelly track pays heavy homage to post-Swordfishtrombones Tom Waits, not only by means of the Waitsian scenery evoked by Selengut’s splendidly grotesque delivery, but also through the performance of guitarist Adam Brisbin, who channels his inner Marc Ribot to the extent that I had to double-check to make sure Ribot wasn’t actually a guest musician on the record. Given that he is my all-time favorite guitarist you can imagine that the artful tribute scored extra points with me.

In fact, I’d like to take this opportunity to applaud Brisbin’s superb work throughout, because if I stopped to mention every time the talented guitarist absolutely kills it on this album the review would end up twice as long as intended. Watch out for this guy!

Another standout on this particular song (and in general) is drummer Anders Zelinski, whose timing enhances both Brisbin’s bluesy awesomeness and Selengut’s spit-shine delivery. Speaking of spit-shine, the vocalist embodies his character with the intensity of the most dedicated method actor, howling, growling and barking things like:

I’m gonna lay my head in my hands. IN A VAN down by the river.

Looks like I done messed it up again. IN A VAN down by the river.

IN A VAN down by the riverside, yeah.

I’m gonna smoke up all my friends. IN A VAN down by the river.

Guess I’m gonna smoke up all alone again. IN A VAN down by the river.

(…) Get back Betty, Wendy and Sue. IN A VAN down by the river.

Get back Betty. What they done to you? IN A VAN down by the river.

IN A VAN down by the riverside, yeah.

Overall, a brilliant composition where everyone gets to look good. Unfortunately, the muse doesn’t carry over to “Fat Baby”, where the band trades the clever and sometimes dark humor of tracks like “Never Gonna Call” and “Lady Doc” for simple chuckles and giggles. The song’s lack of substance is somewhat offset by the consistently capable band whose playing turns it into a fun and catchy tune, but nothing more.

The record quickly regains its balance with the moody and intelligent “Gambler’s Blues” where the vocalist laments:

Roll me slowly like those loaded dice.

You take your chances when you take a wife.

Lyin’. Cheatin’. Sleeping in the sun all day. (You know you’re cloudy inside now, baby.)

Well hear me talking. I gambled my life away.

The song further drives home the idea that the band is best when they’re at their darkest.

And, as if to contradict my previous statement, the album continues with the mock-rock’n’roll (mock’n’roll?) energy of “Walk Right In” and a quick trip through the repertoires of Fats Waller and Cab Calloway, with “Buck Them Dice” and “Minnie”. Again, the band’s chemistry translates into raw enjoyment for the listener –  on “Minnie”, Selengut’s call and response is pure gold.

Tin Pan’s gritty vision of the old-timey “Deep Ellum Blues” sounds like it could have been written by a young Johnny Cash and sung by an old Mason Casey. It introduces the closing line-up of “Swing Gitanes” and “Handyman”. The former offers a surprising change of pace and sentiment (not to mention language) – a brilliant track that I feel would have worked better as the album’s closer, especially because of its tidal dynamic. Instead, the finale comes in the form of “Handyman”, finishing off a loud record in an uncharacteristically subdued manner. Switch up these two and you have an exceptionally consistent narrative flow, which is always relevant when you’re trying to tell a story (in music, as well literature). Instead, if you’re fussy about this sort of thing (which I am) the strange track placement disrupts said flow. Nevertheless, it does little to hurt the overall quality of the album.

With clever compositions (old yarns spun by new voices), an immensely talented band that clearly enjoys the heck out of playing this music and a charming “method” vocalist who knows when to be funny and when to be serious, Yes Yes Yes is a roguish, hilarious, confrontational record and simply a ton of fun.

So, in case you were wondering, The Music and Myth gives Tin Pan a thumbs up and an emphatic “Yes, yes, yes!”

 

 

 

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The Music and Myth’s top 5 female vocalists

In my previous article I talked about working on my novel and the way in which music influences my writing. I use music to calm me down when I get restless (after hours of sitting in front of my PC) and I use it to invigorate me when I get tired. I also use it to help me mobilize my thoughts and let my imagination flow. On the backdrop of certain songs I shape scenes and characters and give them life.

My first novel (which for the time being is resting comfortably on my shelf) featured a character named Alan Waits. I used a line from Tom Waits’ “Sins of my Father” as an opening quote for a chapter in my second novel (which will definitely not lay forgotten on a shelf).

The main character from my second novel is a strong, intelligent and independent woman. As a male writer it was very important to me to shape her into a complex, multifaceted leading lady. Again, music was an inspiration. Thankfully, I have so many outstanding, smart and talented musicians from which to draw inspiration. Though the pop music scene seems bent on objectifying women and downplaying their talent while emphasizing what it perceives as beauty, the quality music scene fortunately abounds with strong female musicians who command respect through their artistic accomplishments.

Here’s The Music and Myth’s favorite female vocalists:

5. Florence Welch

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I was first introduced to Florence + The Machine by my wife, who is a great admirer of the charming and charismatic Florence Welch. Though at times the young British musician seems to only be teetering on the precipice of the quality-music scene (and I always fear her next step will take her plummeting into the side of pop that is easy on the eyes but difficult on the ears – this video feels like a bad omen) for now she has still managed to maintain her position through her amazing talent, which she expresses in her wonderful compositions, her powerful voice, her relentless energy and intense stage presence.

I first got acquainted to her through an awesome performance of “What The Water Gave Me” on Later… with Jools Holland. I was absolutely mesmerized. After listening to her first two records it’s clear that Florence Welch is a very serious musician swimming in not-always-serious waters. However, she has so far managed to stay afloat and produce two of the most fresh-sounding records of the last few years. What worries me is that, in spite of the irrefutable value of her own work, she has sometimes shown preference for music of dubious quality and has often exhibited a great admiration for exactly the aspects of pop music that her work itself seems to oppose (and successfully, I might add). With her third record in production, I sincerely hope she will continue on the same road. As long as she does she will remain one of (if not the) most original, credible and powerful female composers and vocalists on the present pop music scene.

4. Emmylou Harris

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She is the leading lady of country music. A distinguished and delicate musician who has been a constant presence in the country scene for over four decades, Harris exudes the grace and style of a true artist. I first discovered her work in 2006 when she teamed up with former Dire Straits front man Mark Knopfler (whom I’ve been worshiping since my teens) to produce a stellar record called All The Roadrunning. Her gentle voice and graceful personality were the perfect fit for Mark’s low-toned vocals and laid-back demeanor. Here is a song called “I Dug up a Diamond” which my wife and I loved so much we had it featured on our wedding video.

Also, their duet “If This is Goodbye” has been featured in an article I wrote called Secrets of Sadness: Four songs that will make you completely lose your shit. I believe it needs no further explanation. Ever since then, whenever I listen to country music it is most often either Johnny Cash or Emmylou Harris which I also believe needs no further comment.

  3. Cibelle

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Cibelle is another musician I wrote about before, when she absolutely rocked a rather difficult Tom Waits tune. I checked out her solo work when I came across this remake of Gilberto Gil’s “Punk da Periferia”.

This is quite possibly my favorite video on the internet. Everything about this performance is top-notch, from the way they’ve altered the original tune making it funny and bad-ass at the same time, to the cellist who looks like Helena Bonham-Carter and uses her instrument to make scratching noises like she’s Jam Master Jane, to the Ric-Flair-tastic cape on the drummer and the way the entire band just stops playing at one point to join in on the finger-snapping. Then, of course, there’s Cibelle herself. Everything about her is perfect in this performance: her voice, her dress, her facial expressions (which make up half the song’s “attitude”), the way in which she just casually fumbles around with the instruments looking disinterested and how she alters the sound-effects with her foot. Absolutely brilliant! There are other great Cibelle tunes out there (some of them remind me of Xela Zaid – shout out my man!) and they’re usually great but “Punk da Periferia” is perfect in every way and I must have listened to it hundreds of times. Cibelle is a strong musician with a bright future and a great understanding of the importance of performing.

2. Sofia Rei

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Let’s get this out of the way first: when John Zorn asks you to be in one of his projects (alongside the likes of John Medeski, Mike Patton and freakin’ Marc Ribot) it already means you’re a pretty big deal on the music scene. I first discovered Sofia in a video from Zorn@60’s Warsaw concert playing “Besos de Sangre”.

Initially I had checked out the video because it said John Zorn and I also saw the name Marc Ribot (which always means my Jazz-senses are tingling) but I quickly forgot that Zorn and Ribot were even there as my jaw dropped at the incredible performance of this young New York musician. In fact, why the hell am I even wasting your time here: go ahead and listen to the whole concert which is fantastic! I looked for some more of Rei’s work and stumbled across this little gem which would have made the old woman proud.

Whether she is playing with Zorn, performing classics with the Pan American Symphony or singing her own exquisite compositions this lady has a fantastic way of conveying emotion.

1. Patricia Barber 

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She is the Meryl Streep of musicians. Like the distinguished actress, Patricia Barber exudes intelligence and magnetism. Long-time readers of The Music and Myth will remember that Smash was chosen the Best Vocal Record of 2013. Her songs are veritable lectures in writing and composition and her stage presence conveys vitality and prestige. She is the standard-bearer for female musicians and Smash is her magnum opus. There is really not much I can say about Patricia Barber without falling into an elated discourse of celebration. Her music is smooth, well-timed, her voice is noble and refined and her lyrics are brilliant. As a writer, I feel she is a kindred spirit, and she herself seems to agree. In this interview, which preceded her latest record, she says: “I am a fiction writer.”

Indeed, an outstanding storyteller!

Florence Welch, Emmylou Harris, Cibelle, Sofia Rei and Patricia Barber are The Music and Myth’s favorite female vocalists. In an industry whose landscape is vast and constantly changing, it is hard to speak of the absolute best. These five musicians, however, manage to transcend the limits of the very music they perform. They embody their musicianship in a way that makes them indistinguishable from their art and that is an exceptionally rare occurrence. They are deserving of the highest accolades and their work comes highly recommended by The Music and Myth.

by Andrei Cherascu


Hey everyone, if you like my articles on The Music and Myth, perhaps you will also enjoy my novel Mindguard. You can find it exclusively on Amazon.

Mindguard Cover

Paris – A Musical Journey

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The setting is Paris and the main characters are musicians Rebecca Cavanaugh, Jason Domnarski, Florence and The Machine, Spector, Tom Waits, Presteej and the whole gang at Park Slope Rock School. The following will be a short story about music and myth:

Chapter 1: Tom Waits

Around this time three years ago I was working on something that changed my perspective of music, of the creative process behind it and the people who compose it. That particular “something” was my thesis for the American Studies Masters Program; a thesis entitled Images of Americana in the music of Tom Waits.

I had always been fascinated with this character and his unique approach to writing music and performing on stage so I decided to dedicate a year of study to the man’s work. I knew that I was going to learn a lot, not only about music but also art in general and life in particular. Old-man Waits proved a most capable mentor. I read dozens of interviews, three biographies; I’ve listened to all of his records and learned his lyrics by heart. I was so immersed in Tom Waits facts that I won a “Mexican stand-off” of Tom Waits trivia with my Professor, literary critic Mircea Mihăieș, who as I understand is pretty knowledgeable of music and who, to his credit, did not fail me for embarrassing him as a lesser (and more petty) professor might have.

Anyway, for an entire year the study of Tom Waits’ immense body of work was my life. The most important thing I’ve learned from the man is that there are many ways of creating music and even more ways of experiencing it. You only have to listen to Tom talking about how much he loved hearing music from a neighboring motel-room, filtered through the walls and hybridized with the plethora of background noises that thus gave birth to a completely new song. I thought this mindset was so fascinating that it changed not only the way I listen to music but the way I approach writing, art and life in general. That being said there is one experience in my life that I think best highlights the many types of musicians out there and the many facets of music.

The whole experience started in the cubicle I’ve mentioned in my previous article.  I was surfing the web trying to find concert tickets to Florence and The Machine’s Ceremonials tour. My one-year wedding anniversary was fast approaching and I was planning on surprising my wonderful wife, Ioana, with tickets to her absolute favorite band in the world. “I can’t think of anything I would love more than seeing Florence in concert” she had said to me once so what better anniversary present to get her, right? I settled on Paris, thinking that this way we could also get to visit our friends, Jazz musicians Jason Domnarski and Rebecca Cavanaugh. Jason and Rebecca were nice enough to invite us to stay with them for the entire four days of our trip which gave me an idea.

Chapter 2: Jason, Rebecca, The Boulevardier and Park Slope Rock School   

We ended up leaving for Paris on November 24th, incidentally our 8 year anniversary as a couple. It seemed like a great date to be flying to Paris. We arrived at Jason and Rebecca’s place sometime in the evening and were greeted with love, friendship, food and wine for what turned into our first and thus far only Thanksgiving dinner. It was a lovely and memorable evening and it gave us the chance to talk about how we were going to put into practice my aforementioned idea.

At the time I was writing for a magazine called The Boulevardier, aimed at the “modern gentleman”. Way before we ever thought of taking a trip to Paris I had already imagined one day writing a feature article about Jason and his work as a musician and a music teacher at his Park Slope Rock School. I had talked to Jason about it and he liked my idea so I was planning on using my time in Paris to chat with him, take the photos and work on the article a little bit (on Jason’s Mac which, as a PC user, I found entirely confusing). Since Jason is a musician and The Boulevardier prided itself on being a very interactive magazine I got the idea to film a music video. The ever-helpful Jason immediately agreed and, the next morning we were in their living-room, him ready at his piano, me ready to shoot him with my SLR camera and my wife ready to shoot me shooting him (because we’re weird like that). The décor could not have been more proper as Rebecca and Jason’s apartment is one of the most charming and tastefully decorated homes I’ve ever had the pleasure of being in. Sitting calmly at his piano Jason was the embodiment of a thinking artist. I gave the sign, the proverbial camera started rolling and what followed was the most beautiful, intense and original musical experience I have ever lived as Jason enchanted us with “Streamline” our favorite track from his album Here and There. It’s not every morning that you get you wake up in a lovely Parisian apartment, enjoy your coffee and then have a brilliant pianist play for you. So as Jason was playing, for the entire length of the song we felt outside of space and time. My wife was moved to tears and I was left thinking back to Tom Waits’ statement about experiencing music and how the surroundings and the moment of time itself become part of the song.

(You can have a look at the video we shot right here and you can read the feature article I wrote for The Boulevardier here)

Chapter 3: Kids writing music and Presteej at Sacre Coeur

We spent the next few days visiting Paris, with Jason and Rebecca as our guides and we were very glad to get to spend some time together with our friends. If you read my feature story you are familiar with the lovely dinner at Au Passage and how we ended up talking about Jason’s Rock School, the great work his kids are doing and some of the awesome songs they are writing themselves. When we got back home my wife and I found out just how great those songs really are. They were all wonderful especially given that they were written by children but there was one that especially stuck with me. It’s called “This is a Message” by the band Electric Lemons and it’s a song that should be on the radio and should be famous. If you gave it a listen you can’t tell me that you didn’t immediately press “repeat”. It’s more than a kids’ song, it is good quality music and brilliant songwriting and my immediate thought was: “This song is written by children. Adults have no excuse to bombard us with some of the shit music we are subjected to on the radio every day!”

The next day we decided to visit the famous Montmartre and stop at the Sacre Coeur Cathedral. We walked in and spent about 20 minutes taking pictures and just generally being in awe of the construction. When we got out our attention was immediately caught by this. That, my friends, is the band Presteej and that was the exact song they were singing that day. We immediately fell in love with their music and bought one of their records. I could have stood there, in front of the Sacre Coeur and could have listened to them all day and it was very difficult to move away from this great sound when our hectic schedule demanded that we continue our journey. With the concert that was the purpose of our trip still two days away we had already experienced so much wonderful music in so many shapes and forms.

Chapter 4: Spector, Florence, The Machine       

On the day of the concert we arrived in front of the Zenith about two hours earlier, just to make sure. We could already hear the band rehearsing with the thick walls of the venue no match for the powerful voice of Florence Welch. Fans were humming their favorite song and I was silently cursing that I had forgotten my notebook on which I had intended on writing snippets of thoughts and observations. When we finally got in and were preparing for the concert we had all but forgotten that there was going to be an opening act as well. They ended up being English rock-band Spector whom neither I nor my wife were familiar with. Experiencing a live concert of a band you love is something special but something can also be said about hearing music for the first time at a concert. Whereas we knew Florence’s songs by heart and went into the show with her imaginary voice in our heads singing along, in the case of Spector our minds were blank slates and we were completely immersed in every sound that was coming off the stage, making for a different but perhaps equally intense adventure. Then, of course, came Florence and rocked the house.

From start to finish our short trip to Paris was an adventure of song. From Florence on stage with glitter and bright lights to Spector with less of both but more self-deprecating charm (If you folks will be kind enough to clap…we will be kind enough to leave the stage), to Jason playing piano in his living-room, the Electric Lemons rockin’ it from Jason’s Mac and Presteej performing in front of the Sacre Coeur, Ioana and I got to enjoy such varied and wonderful music in so many forms. We have been incredibly fortunate to take what I like to call a complete musical journey and, as we now prepare to see the legendary Mark Knopfler live in Budapest (June 22nd) I can only hope that we will embark on a similar adventure.

Secrets of Sadness: 4 Songs That Will Make You Completely Lose Your Shit

So here’s the deal with being a writer: if you want to do it properly you need to be able to share. Even if you’re generally a person that is kept to him- or herself, even if you don’t do hugs and you choke when you try to tell someone you love them. Even supposing you don’t talk about your feelings and the general reply to “what’s wrong” is a cold, distant “nothing”. You can be all that in your private life and it’s all fine and well but every single time you write you pour your heart out even if you won’t admit it.

I generally write humor so I’m a far cry from a Herta Muller (thank God), a Victor Hugo (though he could be hilarious at times) or even a Stephen “Don’t Call Me Steven” King. And yet, behind every dick joke and every witty comment is a part of who I am, what I feel and what I’ve been through in life. You need only look a tad bit closer and it will become readily apparent. Anyway, so…like it or not as a writer your feelings are often on public display. You can try to hide that if you don’t worry about writing crap or you can try to embrace it even at the risk of being ridiculed. So here I am embracing it for the sake of writing a decent opener for this blog entry.

Do you know what I’ve been doing for the past half hour, tough guy that I am? I’ve been crying like a little baby, that’s what. Why have I been crying like some pansy you ask amidst fits of laughter? Well, it’s because I’ve just finished the first draft of my first novel and found that, far from being exciting and exhilarating it is an event that left me sad and emotionally drained. Like saying goodbye to a loved one. Surprising, I know, especially since it’s a freakin’ humor novel. Anyway, as I was sobbing like a wimp making Charles Bukowski spin in his grave I decided to play a few of my favorite sob-songs. These are songs that (to me) are so emotional that I generally avoid them for the sole reason that they bring me to tears every time. But, since I was “in Rome” anyway I thought – what the heck – and played them all. Now I want to tell you about them, about four of the saddest songs I’ve come across. If you are a human being, with a soul and feelings and all these are the four songs that are guaranteed to make you lose your shit:

If You Could Read My Mind by Johnny Cash

Originally penned and recorded by Gordon Lightfoot, this song about disappointment and the difficulty of interpersonal communication is covered by Johnny Cash in his brilliant American Recordings V: A Hundred Highways. By this time the wear-and-tear could be felt in the voice of the aging Cash but its frailty made it all the more powerful. It was a time when he covered songs like “Solitary Man”, “Personal Jesus”, “In My Life” and “Hurt” and turned them into irrefutable anthems. This one is not so well-known but the combination of some very beautiful lyrics and the honesty and sensitivity with which he delivers them is absolutely endearing. He sings:

When you reach the part where the heartaches come

The hero would be me

But heroes often fail

And you won’t read that book again

Because the ending’s just too hard to take

The listener is already mellowed by these lyrics, his emotions ripe for the picking when Johnny says:

I never thought I could act this way

But I’ve got to say that I just don’t get it

I don’t know where we went wrong

But the feeling’s gone

And I just can’t get it back

Enter tears!

If This is Goodbye by Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris

In one of the most inspired duets in recent memory former rock titan and Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler teams up with the charming and lovely country chanteuse Emmylou Harris to produce the excellent All The Roadrunning. Though the record offers many memorable tracks there is one that stands out amongst them all and that is “If This Is Goodbye”

Your bright shining sun

Would light up the way before me

You were the one

That made me feel I could fly

And I love you, whatever is waiting for me

If this is goodbye, if this is goodbye

The lyrics were inspired by the final words of some of the 9-11 victims, words that had, in many cases, been hastily sent via text message to their loved ones mere minutes before their death. If that does not move you to tears then I sure hope the wizard grants you a heart Tin-Man. When they sing…

Who knows how long we’ve got

And what we’re made up of

Who knows if there’s a plan or not, there is our love

I know there is our love

…I believe it creates one of the most beautiful and sad moments in music history.

Green Green Grass of Home by Porter Waggoner

Green Green Grass of Home is a country classic written by Claude “Curly” Puttman Jr and sung by everyone and their mother. Elvis, Tom Jones, Johnny Cash, Joan Baez and so on and so forth have covered this song and every version is more heartbreaking then the next. I’ve chosen the version of Porter Waggoner which, if my memory doesn’t fail me, is probably one of the first. The song is about a man returning to his childhood home after a very long time to find that nothing has changed and everyone awaits his arrival with joy:

Yes, they’ve all come to see me

Arms areached, smiling sweetly

It’s so good to touch the green green grass of home

Ofcourse, the song would not be one of music’s finest tearjerkers if it all ended well so the man wakes up to find that he is in a cell serving a death sentence and he realizes that he was only dreaming and the only way he will ever get home again will be in a casket.

Yes they’ll all come to see me

In the shade of that old oak tree

As they lay me neath the green green grass of home

If you too sometimes remember a childhood that will never return again or people and places that have been lost to you then I have two words:

Cue crying!

Green Grass by Tom Waits

Incidentally another “grass” song and this one makes the previous song sound like a lullaby. Written by none other than the brilliant Tom Waits and his equally brilliant wife Kathleen Brennan this song, undoubtedly one of his grandest “weepers” speaks of death and loss…from the point of view of the dead.

Lay your head where my heart used to be

Feel the Earth above me

Lay down in the green grass

Remember when you loved me

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment when this song brings you to tears as it’s an emotional roller-coaster ride from start to finish. Tom’s rough, old whiskey-voice adds to the mystique of the performance and, just like in the case of Johnny Cash, the “scratches” and “imperfections” of the voice do nothing but add power to the message. My favorite lyrics?

You’ll never be free of me

He’ll make a tree from me

Don’t say goodbye to me

Describe the sky to me

And if the sky falls, mark my words

We’ll catch mockingbirds

So here are four songs that bring me to tears every single time and they will probably do the same for you if you are as passionate and emotionally involved in music as I am.  We live in a day and age when sadness is seen as an undesirable emotion and instead we chase cheap chuckles (you see what I did there) and low-brow humor instead. But let’s not forget what these brilliant songwriters are trying to teach us: that melancholy and sadness have their purpose in life and can often be very cathartic.


Hey everyone, if you like my articles on The Music and Myth, perhaps you will also enjoy my novel Mindguard. You can find it exclusively on Amazon.

Mindguard Cover

The 7 best Tom Waits covers sung by women

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Tom Waits is a strange guy. Undoubtedly one of the greatest singer-songwriters of our generation, his repertoire consists of ventures into some of the most diverse facets of music. His tunes range from sad, tender and beautiful ballads to experimental, percussion-heavy howls-and-growls that would make Captain Beefheart check under his bed before going to sleep.

An acquired taste, Waits has been around for decades producing a very large body of work, with songs you’ve probably never heard of (Sins Of My Father , All The World Is Green ), songs you might have heard of (Tom Traubert’s Blues , Ruby’s Arms ) and songs you had no idea he wrote (Ol’55, Jersey Girl, Downtown Train)

Indeed, he’s written some songs that others turned into big hits. But it wasn’t just The Eagles, The Boss and Rod Stewart who covered this highly respected and appreciated songwriter. There are many more covers of Tom Waits songs out there by lesser-known artists, some of them being women. As a rule, Tom Waits songs are very hard to pull off and Springsteen, Stewart and the Eagles had it easy, covering three songs that were uncharacteristically simple and straightforward, crafted for a large audience that Waits himself has been neither able nor willing to reach. But most of his music is extremely difficult to appropriate. Even before his game-changing Swordfishtrombones that brought about the experimental music he would become famous (and win Grammys) for, the delivery of his songs was always heavily reliant not only on his unorthodox growl but also on the character he had created for himself – a booze-soaked down-on-his-luck musical hobo – through which he delivered his sound.

For this reason it is immensely difficult for an artist to cover a Tom Waits song and make it his own (I just can’t imagine Justin Timberlake doing The Piano Has Been Drinking). Johnny Cash managed to do that with Down There By The Train but that’s why he was one of the greatest musicians of all time. Not many have managed this task and it gets infinitely more difficult if the vocalist is female. Just try to picture Celine Dion doing Red Shoes By The Drugstore and you will understand why.

That is not to say that no female singer has managed to produce a good Tom Waits cover, and for every Scarlett Johansen (who meant well but managed to completely slaughter some of Waits’ better songs) there are some musicians you might have never heard of who managed to do wonders with those songs. Here is a list of the 7 best Tom Waits covers sung by women.

7. Norah Jones – The Long Way Home

Probably the most well-known artist on my list, Norah Jones is famous for producing some great music and for winning 5 Grammys with her debut album Come Away With Me. A very talented singer-songwriter in her own right it comes as no surprise that she managed to produce a very good cover with The Long Way Home. Her lovely voice fits the track very well and the slight country spin she gave it is charming.

6. Diana Krall and Clara Bakker – Temptation

I tried to avoid picking songs that were very “easy” and lacking in Waits’ distinctive delivery since there are many versions of Ol’55, I Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love With You and San Diego Serenade out there and most of them are decent. Instead, I tried to go with the “harder” ones, the ones that had something “unique” and Temptation is not part of that list. It’s one of the most covered Tom Waits tracks, especially by women (for reasons not very difficult to deduce) but Diana Krall and Clara Bakker have really done a great job making the song their own. Krall’s version is, as expected, very “jazzy” and with a vocal delivery that is the embodiment of sexy perfection while Dutch singer Clara Bakker attempted a cover that’s a bit farther away from the original but also distinctive, equally charming in its vocal delivery and beautiful instrumentation.

5. Chiara O – Dog Door

Chiara O is an Italian singer whose online presence is so great that I had to conduct investigative journalism just to track down the song (that can’t even be found on Youtube). Nevertheless, here it is:

http://www.myspace.com/music/player?sid=17859784&ac=now

I picked it first and foremost for the artist’s proverbial balls of picking one of the more obscure songs in Waits’ already obscure repertoire. Her delivery is great and her attitude is spot on. It’s a shame that this artist isn’t more well-known as a singer (her main activity is design, as can be seen on her homepage http://www.chiaraonida.com/).

If you want to find out more about her music, try her myspace page:

http://www.myspace.com/chiaraonida

4. Christine Collister – Dirt In The Ground

I chose this one because it’s one of my favorite tracks by the Waits/Brennan duo and because it’s a difficult track to cover as some have tried and failed miserably. The failure stems from the artist trying hard to be as “creepy” as they perceive Waits to be. The thing is, Waits doesn’t perceive himself as creepy and delivers his music the way that comes natural to him. If an artist tries to go toe-to-toe in that respect, they will fail. Manx songwriter Christine Collister has taken a safe approach and presents a jazzy-bluesy version of the song and so far the only decent cover I’ve heard.

3. Cibelle – Green Grass

Brazilian musician Cibelle sings a very good cover of this easy-to-fuck-up song. This song might not seem very hard to play at first but there is a quality of sadness and profound melancholy in the original which is the deciding factor in the impact that it has on the listener. To go into the detail of that impact I must specify (and am not ashamed to admit) that the original track is  one of only three songs that completely make me lose my shit. I hear “Green Grass” and I break down and weep like a little girl. That is the result of Waits’ distinctive delivery and it’s very hard to put your finger on what exactly it is about the song that elicits such a reaction. So far Cibelle’s version  is the only one I’ve heard that comes close to evoking the feeling of the original.

2. Joan Baez – The Day After Tomorrow

The Day After Tomorrow is one of the very few songs of a “political” nature that Waits has produced and it’s also one of the most appreciated in his discography. Joan Baez is an American folk singer who is an activist for human rights, peace, and environmental justice and when she sings this song about the hardships of war, her delivery comes off as absolutely honest and intense (“Tell me how does God choose/ Just whose prayers he will refuse”) A very beautiful rendition of this track that probably made the old man proud.

1. Astrid Seriese – Blow Wind Blow

This is the only song on this list where I feel the cover artist has actually surpassed the original. I was never a big fan of this song until I heard Seriese’s version of it which is the perfect example of what a great cover song should do as the Dutch Jazz singer has taken this song and made it entirely her own. Her version is faithful enough to the original to keep the song’s vibe intact but different enough to be its own entity. Her Jazz take on the tunes sounds fresh, the instruments are spot-on and her voice is absolutely perfect. Truly a delightful artist who has covered other of Tom’s songs as well and, while they all sound good, in Blow Wind Blow she effortlessly shines.

Tom Waits’ music undeniably has a whole different dynamic when sung by a female vocalist and these eight tracks stand as proof that one can create entirely new and original art by putting a different spin on an old tune. I hope you enjoy the tracks and I’m looking forward to hearing your opinions on them.


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