You know the story by now: A few years ago, Radiohead front-man Thom Yorke started a band to help him perform songs from his 2006 solo effort, The Eraser, live. One thing led to another, and now he’s made the band into a full-fledged project that includes longtime producer/visionary Nigel Godrich and Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, as well as Joey Waronker and percussionist Mauro Refosco. Needless to say, there’s been a lot of buzz surrounding this one.
In just one more trip around the sun, another swarm of immensely talented but under-recognized musicians has harnessed its collective talents and discharged its creations into the void. This list is but one fraction of those dedicated individuals who caught our ears with some serious jams.
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Tom Waits is legend, larger than life. Few musicians are as cloaked in mythology. Yet his music has always been what music should be: comforting in places, jarring in others, pushing boundaries while always honoring the legacy of American songwriting. Bad as Me, Waits’ first studio album in seven years, is all of these things, continuing the direction that he established with Closing Time in 1973 and hammered into the ground with Swordfishtrombones a decade later.
At the time, Swordfishtrombones signified a new Waits, a man unafraid to be confronted. The confidence came in large part from his marriage to Kathleen Brennan. They’re still married, and Waits credits Brennan as his support, collaborator, and muse. Here, every track was written and produced by Brennan and Waits together. Those tracks oscillate between manic and maudlin, flip-flopping throughout the entire album. Where a Depression-era blues tune ends, a ballad begins. Waits’ voice is a freight train and then a frail leaf.
That voice, of course, is a wonder. Waits can sound like a woman down on her luck, a Mississippi blues man, a possessed mule, and an army of brokenhearted ogres. Every harsh word has been employed to make sense of the ragged clatter that emerges from Waits’ throat. It’s as if his voice has always been 60 years old and his body only now caught up.