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Tom Waits

January 13, 2007

Nighthawks at the Diner
Elektra/Asylum

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Nice live in the studio by album by seventies-era singer/songwriter Tom Waits. This is long before Waits became the hoarse, surreal croaker he is now; equal parts Howlin’ Wolf (vocally), Charles Bukowski and Jack Kerouac (lyrically) and Harry Partch (instrumentally). Tom had recorded three critically acclaimed, yet obscure albums for Asylum. His style was that of a beer-soaked piano man or a jazzbo, bebop speaking grifter or even a sensitive guitar playing singer.
Here – backed by a top-notch minimal jazz unit – he spins yarns about long-lost loves, the virtues of single life, eggs and sausage, phantom truck drivers and the goings-on of a fictitious county that would prefigure Garrison Keillor’s schtick by a year or two.
Waits really knows how to engage an audience and his between song banter takes up nearly half of the album. His portrayal of his stage persona and the characters he introduces us to are closer to a tragic, yet beautiful Diane Arbus photograph than Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks , the album’s namesake. After this album Waits became artier and more surreal, fianlly leaving Asylum for Island records where he continued to explore more fertile grounds artistically and lyrically with his wife, playwrite Kathleen Brennan.
This is probably my favorite Tom Waits album from his early career.

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3 comments

  1. “Cold. Colder than the smile of the ticket taker at the Ivar theater on a Saturday night. It’s cold out there”


  2. I’ve never understood why a lot of Waits fans don’t care for this one. I think it’s essential!

    Thanks for the Negativland. That album has a special place in my heart, and I’m not sure where my old cdr copy of it is.


  3. Yeah, I know what you mean. Maybe it gets caught between the cracks of the split his career took between the bluesy-jazzy singer songwriter and the avant-garde guy he is now. I dunno.

    Both those albums got a lot of play from me about 12 or 13 years ago. It was fun to dig them out again.



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