The versatility of Tom Waits’s voice is one of his most overlooked strengths. You hear a lot of (misguided) Louis Armstrong and (perhaps more accurate) Cookie Monster comparisons, but it’s less often you hear anything about what a majestically malleable, chameleonic and shapeshifting instrument it is. Within the span of “Alice” alone, Waits goes from mad carnival barker to soulful jazz crooner to demented leader of a mutated gang of sewer-people.
That range is clearly showcased in the two tracks that have been released from his upcoming ANTI album, “Bad As Me”– the eponymous first single is a theatrical freak-jam of epic proportions, equal parts “Hang On St. Christopher” and “Goin’ Out West”, with a genuinely badass Waits once again channeling Captain Beefheart as he screams, wheezes and growls through a thoroughly thrilling number.
“Back in the Crowd”, however, is a gentler beast; a lovely country song that wouldn’t feel out of place in Willy Deville’s catalogue, with beautifully understated backing by the genius of Marc Ribot and David Hidalgo from Los Lobos. A tender ballad and an elegiac barcarole, I’ve listened to “Back in the Crowd” on repeat around 15 times now, and can honestly say I’m looking forward to this album more than anything else this year.
Listen to Tom Waits’s gorgeous “Back in the Crowd” below.