Tuesday, 1 May 2018

"Nighthawks At The Diner" by TOM WAITS (March 2018 Anti Records CD Reissue - Waits/Brennan/Lyman Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Precipitation Is Expected..."

Tom Waits had opened his musical account on America’s Asylum Records with two fabulous singer songwriter albums in the shape of 1973's "Closing Time" followed fast by another equally understated masterpiece - "The Heart Of Saturday Night" from 1974. Dripping with Americana – his louche barstool growl conjured up Bukowski stumbling out of some seedy 43rd Street watering hole into the harsh inner city morning glare – an emotionally-battered bum with a bottle of bourbon in one hand, a packet of Lucky Strikes in the other and some hookers initials carved into his arm with the rusty lid of an Campbell's Tomato Soup tin.

TW's next move was a clever one – an entire double-album of new material recorded live across two days in late July 1975 at NYC's Record Plant in front of an invited audience. Waits sets the scene during the Intro pretending its Raphael's Silver Cloud Lounge as the crowd is treated to the scoop Betty Boop and a Los Angelinos 'emotional weather forecast'. This live setting allowed the music a fabulous looseness – a jazzy sleaze hovering over great new songs – all crammed with his pawnshop suit persona and Gatling Gun wit shining ("...I'm so horny the crack of dawn better be careful round me..."). Although the lounge lizard slumped over a piano amidst plumbs of smoke from a well-filled ashtray routine wasn't exactly new - you can literally feel the enrapt audience both loving and discovering someone special in front of them – perhaps even hearing something and someone unique.

The album has had a limited compact disc history. To my knowledge "Nighthawks At The Diner" was reissued onto CD as far back as 1989 in the USA, Europe and the UK (WEA 960 612-2) along with the rest of his Asylum Records catalogue. Mostly non-remasters – it has remained there ever since. The 1998 version on Asylum 7559-60620-2 is essentially another reissue of that original lacklustre version. Only one track - "Eggs And Sausage (In A Cadillac With Susan Michelson)" - has ever been remastered from the 2LP set – featuring on the November 2001 CD compilation "Used Songs" (see review). This is the first time the whole enchilada has received a digital dust-off – and what a revelation it is.

March 2018 now sees Anti Records of the USA reissue his entire Asylum Records seven-album catalogue from 1973 to 1980 on Remastered CDs, DLs and 180-Gram LPs – Anti being his musical home since his "Mule Variations" set won awards galore in 1999. But even though these Remastered 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 disappointingly bare bones.

Each CD is housed in a faded card digipak, has a picture disc 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). Although the disc is a picture CD (at the microphone with his hat on for Nighthawks)  – when you open the digipak 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. At least the 20-page booklet allows you to slaver over page after page of lyrics that even 40-years after the event seem amazing. The 2LP set will also to be released on 180-GRAM VINYL in May 2018 with a download code built in (see list below).

So what do you get from your CD...what have the Naugahyde booths been whispering to the Stolly brunettes and Vermouth blondes...

UK and EUROPE released Friday, 23 March 2018 - "Nighthawks At The Diner" by TOM WAITS on Anti 7567-2 (Barcode 8714092756722) is a straightforward CD Reissue and Remaster of the 18-Track 1975 double-album originally on Asylum Records and plays out as follows (73:40 minutes):

1. (Opening Intro) [Side 1]
2. Emotional Weather Report
3. (Intro)
4. On A Foggy Night
5. (Intro)
6. Eggs And Sausage (In A Cadillac With Susan Michelson)
7. (Intro) [Side 2]
8. Better Off Without A Wife
9. Nighthawk Postcards (From Easy Street)
10. (Intro) [Side 3]
11. Warm Beer And Cold Women
12. (Intro)
13. Putnam County
14. Spares Parts 1 (A Nocturnal Emission)
15. Nobody [Side 4]
16. (Intro)
17. Big Joe And Phantom 309
18. Spare Parts II And Closing
Tracks 1 to 18 are his third album "Nighthawks At The Diner" (a 2LP set) - released October 1975 in the USA on Asylum Records 7E-2008 and December 1975 in the UK on Asylum SYSP 903 (reissued June 1976 on Asylum K 63002). Produced by BONES HOWE with all songs written by Tom Waits except "Big Joe And Phantom 309" by Tommy Faile and "Spare Parts 1 (A Nocturnal Emission)" by Chuck E. Weiss - it peaked at No. 164 on the US LP charts (didn't chart in the UK).

TOM WAITS - Vocals on all Tracks, Piano on Tracks 6, 8, 11, 13 and 15, Guitar on Tracks 4 and 17
MIKE MELVOIN - Piano on Tracks 2, 4, 9, 14 and 18, Electric Piano on Tracks 6, 8, 11 and 13
PETE CHRISTLIEB - Tenor Saxophone
JIM HUGHART - Upright Bass

The digipaks each come with a generic 'Newly Remastered with Waits/Brennan' sticker (Kathleen Brennan is his wife). But when you open this one only to be confronted by blank spaces on both sides and naught new - 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...

Like all the others in the 2018 series - 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 1975 when the double-album was recorded in front of an invited audience. Every song feels new and up for grabs – the atmosphere tingling as he schmoozes from littered streets to boozy bars.

Waits shuffles into his seat, huffs, then the witty rapport begins and immediately the crowd are in his grasp. In "Emotional Weather Report" we're told of tornado watches issued early Saturday morning in case his heart explodes, precarious fronts coming at the northern portion of his mental health and a pressure ridge extending from his baby's cheeks down to the vice grips on his loins. The crowd whoops and hollers as "On A Foggy Night" leaves our hero stranded in nowheresville with no sign of a gas station for miles. The fantastic "Eggs And Sausage (In A Cadillac With Susan Michelson)" paints those nighthawks at the diner – Formica table, slice of toast, hash browns and refilled coffee as the singer tells us "...I'm a refugee from a disconcerted affair as the lead pipe morning falls and the waitress calls..."

The Hopper Painting personalities that fill his stories continue with "Better Off Without A Wife" where bachelors and bowery bums howl at the moon and curse trumpet players who have a way with the ladies. There are so many lyrics to the eleven and half minutes of "Nighthawk Postcards (From Easy Street)" - they take up nearly four and half pages in the booklet - more tales of hustlers over at Chubb's Pool & Snooker Hall - Tom quickly eyeballing the scene with his lips around a bottle neck and his foot on the throttle. The band has taken a break - so something by Tammy Wynette is on the joint’s jukebox in "Warm Beer And Cold Women" where the moon rises and men with tattoos drink deep as they eye the girls giggling over by the fluorescent tubing. Two-lane asphalt roads bristle with Stratocaster Guitars slung over the shoulders of small town Machiavelli types in the brilliant "Putnam County" while his cover of the countryish "Big Joe And Phantom 309" shows his love of storytelling and America's underdogs. I love it to bits...

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' third "Nighthawks At The Diner" has always been the runt of his mighty litter somehow - a forgotten artefact – the kind of Seventies artistic splurge they really don't make anymore. But like so much of his fantastic output this twofer-onto-1CD is something that needs to be celebrated. Much like the great man himself. Yet another to buy and enjoy...

TOM WAITS - 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 released Friday, 23 March 2018
1. "Closing Time" (1973) – CD on Anti 7565-2 (Barcode 8714092756524)
LP released 9 March 2018 on Anti 7565-1 (Barcode 8714092756517)
2. "The Heart Of Saturday Night" (1974) – CD is on Anti 7566-2 (Barcode 8714092756623)
LP due 18 May 2018 on Anti 7566-1
3. "Nighthawks At The Diner" (1975 Live Double Album onto 1CD) - Anti 7567-2 (Barcode 8714092756722)
2LP Set due 18 May 2018 on Anti 7567-1
4. "Small Change" (1976) - Anti 7568-2 (Barcode 8714092756821)
LP due 8 June 2018 on Anti 7568-1
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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