In a year when we dissect bands like Arctic Monkeys and Wolfmother, it's reassuring to think that Tom Waits can spew out his leftover crap and still lambaste a vast majority of these potential one-album-wonders. Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards
is a 56-song, three-disc set that posits Waits' timeless material into three different lights there's the softer, ballad-heavy "Bawlers"; the rough, tough, down 'n' dirty blues of "Brawlers"; and the inner workings of Waits' soul, or what he refers to as "Bastards." By now, we know Waits is a master storyteller, one who prides himself in narratives from an underclass of misanthropes. Orphans
brings us more of those tales; a mix of sweet tear-jerkers and very dark downers. He's as tender as he's ever been on "Bawlers": "Widow's Grove" beautifully pairs his melancholy, hushed voiced with strings, and "Shiny Things" includes a banjo picker amid a soft clarinet. "Tell It to Me" is a pure Waitsian love song, full of heartbreak, and as poignant as 1999's "Hold On." Longtime fans will rejoice, too: The piano has a heavy presence throughout "Bawlers," reminiscent of the bar tunes of his early work. In comparison, "Brawlers" mingles his gravelly delivery with the swampy blues-funk meets Afro-Cuban sound Waits has favored over the last few albums. "Bastards" is where the beatboxers, the waltzes, and the creepiest cuts wound up, including Waits' haunting take on the Daniel Johnston song "King Kong."
The bottom line: One guy's orphaned trash is another's bountiful treasure. Michael D. Ayers