Friday, August 19, 2011

Tom Waits 10: Rain Dogs

Tom moved his new family to New York City, where he fell in with a set of unique musicians and recorded Rain Dogs. The album is nearly flawless, running the gamut from old ballads to rock songs, infused with the new carnival sound he’d started developing on Swordfishtrombones. Loaded with nineteen tracks, it’s one of his best.
“Singapore” stumbles in to immediately show off the latest weapons in his arsenal: guitarist Marc Ribot and percussionist Michael Blair, the latter of whom utilized hubcaps and industrial pipe over the usual congas and tambourines. “Clap Hands” is something of a fractured nursery rhyme, taken to an even further extreme on “Cemetery Polka”, with its litany of creepy uncles and their unappreciative offspring. “Jockey Full Of Bourbon” is a swampy little rhumba, a perfect match for its use in the film Down By Law. The broken-finger piano returns for “Tango Till They’re Sore”, something of a farewell speech in the middle of side one. “Big Black Mariah” sounds a little more standard, thanks in part to Keith Richards on guitar, before giving way to the spooky lullaby cadence of “Diamonds & Gold”. “Hang Down Your Head” is rocking yet mournful, just as “Time” is tender and sweet.
An accordion opens side two before bringing in the clatter of the title track. The minute-long instrumental “Midtown” perfectly captures the sound of the city in this or any decade. “9th and Hennepin” is a spoken visit to a donut shop somewhere in Minneapolis, before we go deep into the woods for “Gun Street Girl”. Keith returns to add guitar to “Union Square”, but he’s used to much better effect on “Blind Love”, as straight a country song as you’ll find here. “Walking Spanish” is a little on the ordinary side (for him) but who could have predicted that “Downtown Train” would become such a huge hit for so many other people? “Bride Of Rain Dog” is another instrumental interlude before we get the real farewell speech, New Orleans funeral-style, in “Anywhere I Lay My Head”.
With over 53 minutes of music, Rain Dogs offers a lot at once, but for the Waits newcomer, it’s an excellent place to start. Without the slightest hint of his drunken troubadour image, it sounds like nothing he’d done in the ‘70s, yet as ever, he wasn’t about to follow any recent trends. Best of all, the album hangs together very well as an album, making it a pleasure from start to finish.

Tom Waits Rain Dogs (1985)—5


  1. Nice post. I've always loved Rain Dogs. I love Tom's sense of humour, way with words and his taste in guitarists.

  2. Great Review. I had to review it myself not long ago for my own blog.

    I probably over-raved slightly but it's a great album.