Monday, 9 April 2018

"Small Change" by TOM WAITS (March 2018 Anti Records CD Reissue - Waits/Brennan/Derfler/Lyman Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Drive It Away Today...Step Right Up!..."

As I said in my review of the 2018 CD reissue for "The Heart Of Saturday Night" - DAMN and DOUBLE DRAT! What you get here folks is fantastic audio (really, really great) for the albums but bare bones anything else – and all of it housed in very lacklustre even (in some cases) sloppy packaging.

Like so many lifetime fans I've been waiting just that for decent affordable Remasters of Tom Waits stunning Asylum Years catalogue stretching from 1973 to 1980. And here they are in March 2018 on Anti Records CDs, DLs and LPs – his musical home since "Mule Variations" won awards galore in 1999. But even though the CDs are priced at just under a tenner in the UK (and the corresponding dollar rate in the USA) – knowing what Anti could have been given us and outside of the sound – they’re hugely disappointing on almost every other front.

Each reissue is housed in a faded card digipak, has a picture CD of sorts, a booklet and new Tom Waits/Kathleen Brennan/Karl Derfler supervised tape transfers – mastered in turn by Peter Lyman at his Infrasonic Mastering Studios in California (a renowned studio with Grammy award-winners on their resume). The 20-page booklet provides lyrics and album credits but bugger all else. In a booklet with only lyrics on offer - instead of actually giving you the myriad words to the witty "Step Right Up" – we get the original album credit that asks you to send off an SAE and get the lyrics by return from a Young Tom Waits! You open the digipak to "Small Change" and you're confronted with nothing - no photo on the left and nothing beneath the tray on the right. As with the booklet for "The Heart Of Saturday Night" – there are no new liner notes, no history (not even a catalogue number for the original release) and worse not a single extra track when these reissues have been screaming out for deluxe editions for years. It's hugely disappointing. But at least the first four Remastered titles are also to be released on 180-GRAM VINYL with a download code built in (see list below). So what do you get from your CD...what has the piano been drinking (and not me)...

UK and EUROPE released Friday, 9 March 2018 - "Small Change" by TOM WAITS on Anti 7566-2 (Barcode 8714092756821) is a straightforward CD Reissue and Remaster of the 11-Track 1976 album originally on Asylum Records USA (1977 UK release) and plays out as follows (49:57 minutes):

1. Tom Traubert's Blues (Four Sheets To The Wind In Copenhagen) [Side 1]
2. Step Right Up
3. Jitterbug Boy (Sharing a Curbstone with Chuck E. Weiss, Robert Marchese, Paul Body and the Mug and Artie)
4. I Wish I Was In New Orleans (In The Ninth Ward)
5. The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)
6. Invitation To The Blues [Side 2]
7. Pasties And A G-String (At The Two O'Clock Club)
8. Bad Liver And A Broken Heart (In Lowell)
9. The One That Got Away
10. Small Change (Got Rained On With His Own .38)
11. I Can't Wait To Get Off Work (And See My Baby On Montgomery Avenue)
Tracks 1 to 11 are his fourth album "Small Change" - released October 1976 in the USA on Asylum Records 7E-1078 and May 1977 (belatedly) in the UK on Asylum K 53050. Produced by BONES HOWE with all songs written by Tom Waits - it peaked at No. 89 on the US LP charts (didn't chart in the UK).

TOM WAITS - Vocals and Piano on all Tracks
LEW TABACKIN - Tenor Saxophone
JIM HUGHART - Upright Bass
JERRY YESTER - String Section Arrangements and Conducting of Violins, Violas and Cellos

The digipaks are pretty - each coming with a generic 'Newly Remastered with Waits/Brennan' sticker (Kathleen Brennan is his wife). But when you open this digipak to be confronted by a smoking-cigarette picture disc with nothing else on the flap or beneath the see-through tray - it all feels staggeringly lazy. Worse - instead of being a celebration of this American songwriter's magnificent catalogue – it comes across the same way the Neil Young reissues did – what could be gotten away with instead of giving fans something to get their teeth into. The inevitable ‘unreleased stuff’ Box Set will follow on Anti no doubt - thereby costing fans more dosh and yet another purchase. But let's concentrate on what is awesome - the amazing Audio...

Weighing in at just under 50-minutes, "Small Change" was always a sonically compromised beast on original vinyl – no such problem here. This CD is incredible sounding – Mastering Engineer PETER LYMAN having brought out every nuance of the original quality Production job done by Bones Howe back in July 1976 when the album was recorded at Wally Heider Studios in California. Every song feels new and up for grabs.

The two points of CD Remaster reference for this 1976 material are Lee Herschberg and his work on the 1986 truncated CD reissue of the 1984 double-album "Asylum Years" - and then later by Elektra/Rhino's Dan Hersch and Bill Inglot on the fabulous "Used Songs 1973-1980" CD compilation from 2001 (see separate review for that release). But here the audio is so much more – amazing clarity and not uber-trebled for the sake of it. Even more prominent than the fretwork he showed on 1974’s "The Heart Of Saturday Night" - the sliding upright double-bass notes of James Hughart leap off almost every song like a dancing dervish. When you then take the near 15-piece mini-orchestra Waits used on emotional ballads like the Waltzing Mathilda song "Tom Traubert’s Blues", the whiskey-drinking pool-playing friends singing When The Saints Go Marching In during "I Wish I Was In New Orleans..." or the World War II jitterbug rhythms and sales patter in the mighty "Step Right Up" – the effect is powerful to say the least. One minute he’s ripping your broken-soldier heart out – the next making you howl with laughter at that slipper at large behind the chase lounge for months.

But what gets me about "Small Change" the album is that not only is his cigarette-ash crumpled-suit Bukowski-persona in full throttle and with devastating wit and pathos taboot – the whole record is good – Waits’ ability to move both your head and heart is on fire - like a Bursen Burner aimed at your vital areas and it ain’t gonna miss. Songs like "Jitterbug Boy" feature him growling on a piano as he sings about Mulligans, Rocky Marciano and Minnesota Fats, Fast Women and even Faster Horses and Unreliable Sources – but amidst all this gigglesome mirth is a low-life, a bum just hoping for a break and somehow Waits make you empathise with him and his huge dreams. Again in "The Piano Has Been Drinking" he manages to make his plinking notes seem Jack Daniels legless – with the balcony on the make and the carpet needs a haircut and the tuner’s got a hearing aid and the owner is a mental midget with the IQ of a fencepost...

Other mini operas include the greasy spoon images of "Invitation To The Blues" where the waitress stands by the register with an apron and a spatula and used dockets from bachelors who battle with the booze. Waits scats "Pasties & A G-String" as he eulogises Chesty Morgan and Watermelon Rose in their fishnet-stockings and spiked high-heels hustling the early-bird suckers at the burlesque show. It isn’t long before he’s melancholy again – a gargles-gravel-for-breakfast voice tells us he hasn’t got a drinking problem unless he can’t get a drink in "Bad Liver And A Broken Heart" – sat precariously on a barstool looking for quarters to call his baby – but is unable to get away from the bottom of a bottle of bargain scotch. He goes full-on easy-street sleaze with the brilliant "The One That Got Away" where shroud tailors and tired ambulance drivers and stage door johnnies and whiskey spilling Andre are singing songs and talking about guessed it! The lyrics in "Small Change (Got Rained On With His Own .38)" may one day end up in textbooks as far as I’m concerned - topics include fire hydrants that plead the Fifth Amendment, furniture bargains, drugstore prophylactics and a lunatic Newsboy with questionable stains on his pants – all while a lonesome saxophone accompanies Tom and his Lucky Strike warbling. Busting your chops baby...

So – storming great audio and musically the album is a stone five-star singer-songwriter winner - but naught a lot else. Fans will have to own them for sure given the sonic upgrade – but it’s just such a shame that Anti Records haven’t risen to his now legendary status and provided us with something actually worth getting giddy about - especially when it comes to an artist that so many of us have adored for so long.

Tom Waits' "Small Change" is a forgotten masterpiece for me – the kind of Seventies album they really don’t make anymore and something that needs and should be celebrated. Much like the great man himself. Buy and enjoy...

TOM WAITS - March 2018 
Reissue Series of CDs, LPs and Downloads on Anti Records
All CDs are in Card Digipaks, come with Booklets and Pic CDs but No Extras
"Closing Time" and "The Heart Of Saturday Night" released Friday, 9 March 2018 
The others all released Friday, 23 March 2018

1. "Closing Time" (1973) - Anti 7565-2 (Barcode 8714092756524) - CD/LP is Anti 7565-1 (Barcode 8714092756517)
2. "The Heart Of Saturday Night" (1974) - Anti 7566-2 (Barcode 8714092756623)/LP due May 2018
3. "Nighthawks At The Diner" (1975 Live Double onto 1CD) - Anti 7567-2 (Barcode 8714092756722)/LP due May 2018
4. "Small Change" (1976) - Anti 7568-2 (Barcode 8714092756821)/LP due May 2018
5. "Foreign Affairs" (1977) - Anti 7569-2 (Barcode 8714092756920)
6. "Blue Valentine" (1978) - Anti 7570-2 (Barcode 8714092757026)
7. "Heartattack And Vine"(1980) - Anti 7571-2 (Barcode 8714092757125)

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