Gorgeous version of the Tom Waits classic…
I really wanted to hate this album, or at least feel indifferent enough to ignore it. I tried, really I did. I didn’t even listen to the unrequested advance promo I received. Then a second promo arrived from Jones’ record label, so I thought I’d see how bad it is while I mopped the kitchen floor. I still can’t believe I like a Tom Jones album. The man best known to my generation for his vomit-inducing cover of Prince’s “Kiss” and even more atrocious dance hit “Sexbomb” has recorded what I must admit is a twisted, bluesy and actually quite good Americana album. A collaboration with producer Ethan Johns, the album was recorded in Peter Gabriel’s Real World studio and features covers by such artists as Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and The Low Anthem.
The weird, Western noir isn’t quite Nick Cave, the blues wailers aren’t quite Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and the reflective old man country songs aren’t quite Johnny Cash, but you can hear those influences in several songs and they definitely suit Jones’ voice. And there’s no denying the instrumentation on the album is superb.
Highlights are Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song” (the video of which you can watch below), Tom Waits’ “Bad As Me,” Joe Henry’s “All Blues Hail Mary,” “Hit or Miss,” and Blind Willie Johnson’s “Soul of a Man.” The album also includes a cover of The Low Anthem’s “Charlie Darwin.”
So yeah, judge me if you must, but I like a Tom Jones album.
Six-piece Portland ensemble Vagabond Opera is a new addition to my demented circus genre. But despite some similarities to twisted bands like The Dresden Dolls and Tiger Lillies, Vagabond Opera’s new album The Zeitgeist Beckons centers on a more traditional cabaret sound (akin to Camille O’Sullivan) with elements of opera, Eastern European folk, jazz, swing, and klezmer. Led by operatic tenor and accordion player Eric Stern, the band features a wide selection of instruments and styles with a revolving cast of female vocalists.
The cabaret style is omnipresent throughout the album, but front and center in “Welcome to the Opera.” The song introduces the musicians, showcases their eclectic stylistic madness, and finishes with a sample of Verdi’s “Traviata.”
Songs like “Chimaeras Be Met” and “Farewell Kabarista” are heavier on the jazz and swing. The manic cover of Tom Waits’ “Tango ‘Til They’re Sore” can’t compete with Holly Cole‘s interpretation, but it’s not really trying to anyway.
“Milord” is a torchy homage to Edith Piaf that I love, but the sultry snarl of “Ganef” is probably my favorite track on the album. So much so that I was tempted to share it (the band was kind enough to let me choose the mp3), but I feel this track is a better introduction to the band…
Vagabond Opera – Welcome to the Opera (mp3 expired) *
Vagabond Opera will perform at Mountain Stage next month, and I think it’ll be a very entertaining set.
*mp3 posted w/ permission of the band
My favorite tracks on Temptation are “Jersey Girl” with its infectious “la la la la la la” refrain and the sensual “Tango Til Their Sore”. I was fortunate enough to hear Holly sing both songs at Mountain Stage in 1998, and her live performances were just as sultry as the studio recordings.
Another highlight is Cole’s expressive rendition of “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up”, which can bring tears to my eyes if I’m in a certain mood. I’ve often included the track on mixtapes to introduce new friends to the “best of” my taste in music.
“(Looking For) The Heart Of Saturday Night” is probably the easiest, prettiest of Waits songs for any artist to cover – I also enjoyed Shawn Colvin’s version on Cover Girl – and Cole’s is no exception. Though a couple of the songs – particularly “Train Song” and “Temptation” – fall a little flat, Cole makes up for it by unleashing her pipes on “Falling Down”. And her quietly beautiful rendering of “The Briar And The Rose” serves as the poignant finale.
I was not granted permission to share an mp3, but you can hear clips at the Amazon link.