New Coat of Paint
Songs of Tom Waits (Manifesto)
by Jon Sarre
For a tribute record — a genre I personally don’t really care for, even when I like the band bein’ toasted — this one’s pretty alright: Good material, pretty good performers. Everybody knows this Tom Waits guy, right? He’s like the old dude on Epitaph, the other old dude on Epitaph, cuz there’s also that other guy who was around in the ’60s and stuff (y’knnnowww, Wayne Kramer), but this old dude’s also like an actor or sumptin’, but only in boring movies, like, one’s without Jackie Chan and stuff. Yeah, that guy. Tom Waits. The punk rock beat poet of cool pulp lit, trashy romance and Ironweed-like tales. Tom Waits.
One interesting thing about New Coat of Paint is that for a tribute to a guy so into weird sounds and unusual instruments, nobody tries to do much with the music. Everyone’s concentratin’ on their vocal stylizin’. The music’s either rendered straighter or pretty much lifted straight offa the Waits records. Nobody tries to top the gravely voiced auteur (fans, probably), still it’s mostly a quality work. Nothin’ fuckin’ kitschy, either.
Ya gotta think, for example, that Screamin’ Jay Hawkins thought “Whistlin’ Past the Graveyard,” the first track, was written for him, was about him, was him. Totally his fuckin’ style, blues bravado, black humor, backed by Bobby “Blue” Bland. Gotta say the same for Andre Williams‘ cover of “Pasties and a G-String” (mebbe without alliteration this time), oughtta add it to his sweaty live set, providing he can remember all those words. Continuing on, Lydia Lunch, backed by a couple insane noise “guitar bridges” courtesy of Nels Cline, vamps her way winningly thru’ “Heartattack and Vine,” then Lower East Side lo-fi alt scuzz stars, Knoxville Girls, turn “Virginia Avenue” into a creepy duet with Barry London’s spooky farfisa-like-thing splittin’ Jerry Teel and Kid Condo Powers’ traded vocals straight down the middle. Jeez, Ex-Flat Duo Jet Derek Romweber musta smoked about a dozen cigarette’s before he did his loungy take on “Romeo is Bleeding.” Nice treble, too.
Lee Rocker‘s “New Coat of Paint” is probably the only song I don’t like, but that’s partly cuz Lee Rocker sucks and partly cuz I don’t care much for Wait’s straight love songs. The ex-Stray Cat sings it straighter than straight, fuckin’ Johnny Burnette teen-idol period style, too. Some band called Botanica offer a jazzy take on “Broken Bicycles.” After that some Cockney twit named Preacher Boy does an intense Celticized “Old Boyfriends” (“They luk ya ooop when ahm in tone”). Sally Norvell plays chanteuse on “Please Call Me, Baby” and Geraldine Fibber Carla Bozulich trucks in a whole fuckin’ chamber music society for “On the Nickel,” then rents it out to Eleni Mandell so she can tastefully whisper “Muriel.” The mellowness continues (what used to be side one must be the “loud half,” whilst formally side two is “mellow”) on The Blacks alt-country “Poncho’s Lament” tho’ when the guy pops in with that “calling from a busted pay phone at three am” voice effect it’s okay. Neko Case (with only one of her Boyfriends, Jeff Jacobs) does a Rickie Lee Jones take on “Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis.” Blues pianist Floyd Dixon wraps up the Waitsathon with a Louie Armstronged smiley “Blue Skies.” Fitting, I guess, but I’d still rather hear the Ramones doin’ “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up.”
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