Friday, 12 August 2016

"Blue Valentine" by TOM WAITS (1993 Elektra CD Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...





"...Take A Rusty Nail And Scratch Your Initials On My Arms..."

Between 1973 and 1980 - Tom Waits put out a string of fabulous albums on Asylum Records - and I'd argue a case for owning the whole damn shooting match. But if I was dragged through a thorn bush packed with wasp nests in my delightful and beautifully proportioned altogether and unless I name a meisterwerk I'll be dragged back again (this time smeared in honey) - 1978's "Blue Valentine" would be my desert island disc.

Everything about this record is magical to me (the trio of "Small Change", "Foreign Affairs" and "Heartattack And Vine" gave it a good run for the money too) because this is where his Bukowski persona gelled in every way - the whimsical tunes - the jagged rhythms - the astonishing and knowing lyrics - even finding space to evoke beauty amidst the rubble, used needles and down-at-heel street types ("Kentucky Avenue"). I love this album and as the vinyl has become a known rarity since its release - the remastered CD at less than five quid is a belter of a deal. Here are the drugstore details...

UK released February 1993 - "Blue Valentine" by TOM WAITS on Asylum 7559-60533-2 (Barcode 075596053327) is a straightforward CD Remaster of the 10-track 1978 LP and plays out as follows (49:37 minutes):

1. Somewhere (From "West Side Story")
2. Red Shoes By The Drugstore
3. Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis
4. Romeo Is Bleeding
5. $29.00
6. Wrong Side Of The Road [Side 2]
7. Whistlin' Past The Graveyard
8. Kentucky Avenue
9. A Sweet Little Bullet From A Pretty Blue Gun
10. Blue Valentines
Tracks 1 to 10 are his fifth studio album "Blue Valentine" (6th LP overall) - released November 1978 in the USA on Asylum Records 6E-162 and December 1978 in the UK on Asylum K 53088. Produced by BONES HOWE - it peaked at No. 181 in the USA but didn't chart in the UK (the lady slumped over the Thunderbird car on the rear sleeve is his then girlfriend Rickie Lee Jones).

For a mid-price CD reissue - the 20-page booklet is a decidedly classy affair - those all-important and all-consuming lyrics to every song - musician credits – CD re-release details - but no photos unfortunately. But we do get a new Remaster from ZAL SCHREIBER done at Atlantic Studios in New York and in keeping with the lush production values Bones Howe gave the album - this transfer sounds beautiful. There's very little hiss but loads of presence and body and at times the intimacy is spine tingling - a gorgeous job done...

It opens with Bernstein's "Somewhere" from West Side Story - strings and his gargled-gravel-for-breakfast vocals - a perfect start to this lounge lizard of an LP. "...There's a dark huddle at the bus stop...umbrellas arranged in a sad bouquet..." - the lyrics to "Red Shoes By The Drugstore" are typical of his observational brilliance - scenes are full of rain-washed sidewalks - dogs baying at the moon and Santa Claus drunk in the ski room. Even better is "Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis" which gives us a pregnant 'lady of the night' living on 9th street above a dirty book store who has quit drinking whiskey (while her old man works out down at the track) but has misplaced her Little Anthony and The Imperials album. Waits songs are like this - you laugh one moment - but the next you think about that someone with all their hopes and dreams and how his conduit music has chronicled their shot at happiness - not laughed at them - but told their story with heart and an admiration that isn't some politician condescending.

"…They all know they could be like Romeo…if they only had the guts…" - Waits croaks admiringly on a sleazy "Romeo Is Bleeding" – a tale about a street rat who puts out cigarettes in his hand but comes a cropper when he tackles the law. Bleeding now in his car – Romeo finally ends up on the balcony of a local movie house that has Jimmy Cagney doing his tough guy Mobster routine on an oldies re-run. Romeo watches in admiration and dies without a whimper. Side 1 ends on a long slow jazz-shuffle masterpiece – all caressed high-hats and rolling piano notes - the barroom slink of "$29.00". Waits sets-the-scene with lyrics like "...it's cold back in Chicago...but in Los Angeles it's worse...when all you got is $29.00 and an alligator purse..." And then rubs sand in the ointment when a shyster convinces the girl of the story that he knows a good hotel in West Hollywood – smiling like a good Samaritan as he plays Pharaoh Sanders on his 8-track thinking about his future financial reimbursements...

Songs like "Whistlin Past The Graveyard" and "A Sweet Little Bullet From A Pretty Blue Gun" gives us more of the same - but the tune that genuinely moves me to tears is "Kentucky Avenue". Our family has a son with Autism who is 25 now – each of us having clocked up a lifetime of hurt and pain that is part and parcel with this impenetrable condition. And somehow hooking into that - there's something about the lyrics to this cry for understanding "...I'll steal a hacksaw from my Dad...and cut the braces from your legs...and we'll bury them tonight in the cornfield..." that slaughters me every time. This is a song where someone take the spokes from a young boy’s wheelchair and then "...we'll hop a freight train in the hall...and we'll slide down the drain...all the way to New Orleans in the fall…" Beautiful and poetic - like TW's soul. 

A rare and precious talent - mad as a camel on LSD that spits twice as much - Tom Waits is all these things. But what gets me is that he does just that - all the greats do - they get to you - and his 1978 album "Blue Valentine" still does. Explore this man’s work – the payoff will be immense…

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