There’s a potentially exciting Tom Waits record reissue campaign afoot. ANTI- will be releasing Waits’ early Asylum catalog along with his more recent titles that were on ANTI- to begin with. He also has some Record Store Day titles coming out next month as part of the same series. It’s interesting that the Asylum works are getting the remastered treatment in 2018 since they were just redone by Rhino within the last couple of years. Apparently, they botched the job because those reissues were not well received at all. I think they were full-on defective. Still no word on any Island era reissues that I know of. Anyway, none of that has anything to do with the Tom Waits title that we will be hanging out with here. This one is a Mobile Fidelity reissue of the One From the Heart Soundtrack that Waits did in 1982. With Crystal Gayle. I’m serious.
I had this one when I was a kid, but I couldn’t get into it. I thought I might be ready for it as something closer to an adult, but I’m still not blown away. One From the Heart sort of straddles the line between Waits’ earlier Beatnik-hobo brilliance and his latter day carnival barker faire, which he embarked on after meeting Kathleen Brennan while working on this very soundtrack. Strangely, the soundtrack gets weirder (and better) as it goes along. Side two is noticeably more exploratory – sonically and lyrically- than what’s found on the album’s first half. There are four duets with Gayle of varying quality throughout. But none are as fun as Tom’s duet with Bette Midler (on “I Never Talk To Strangers”) from Foreign Affairs five years prior. Coppola wanted Midler all along for One From the Heart, but she wasn’t available so Waits called Gayle. There is an overabundance of orchestral string sections (one is usually too many), along with some horn arrangements (which work much better), and the ubiquitous Tom Waits piano tinkering (that is actually someone else tinkering away on songs that Waits wrote) to drive this album. Gayle’s voice seems out of place to me in the middle of it all. I’m always a little shocked when her parts come in, and I can’t help but wonder if Midler could have done any better. To my ears, the material simply isn’t as sassy and engaging as the Midler duet was. Seems like that song caught the proverbial lightning in a bottle. Even before learning about the soundtrack’s history, I naturally compared it to the Midler tune and found it wanting. But here is something for the reader to consider: I appear to be alone in this assessment. Lots of folks love this album and consider it to be amongst Waits’ finest accomplishments. So, there’s that.
I disagree, but don’t let that stop you if you’re a fan. MoFi worked their usual magic with the original tapes, and this version has lots of wide-open sonic spaces for those strings to spread out in if you like that kind of thing. The piano sounds lifelike and in the room. Tom himself sounds a little restrained, but that’s not due to the recording. He sounds like a man that is about to break free and find his sound. A sound that had certainly not been found before. Swordfishtrombones was right around the bend. I’d give my left ear for MoFi to do that one…
Dwight Yoakam’s been on a winning streak forever, but especially during the 2010s. HIs last three studio records (all of which have been explored at Secrets) are stellar examples of how great Country music can still sound when stripped of the artifice that results in the dreaded “Hot New” Country label. That stuff should be avoided. Yoakam’s Austin City Limits performance from 1988 was just issued on vinyl for the first time, and it should be consumed ravenously again and again. This is Country Music For Real. Never forget.
Live From Austin, TX is full of what would become Yoakam classics, but I reckon that was still to be revealed 30 years ago. Country music was so far off my radar in the late ‘80s that you could have buried this record squarely in my forehead and I likely wouldn’t have noticed. If Slash and Axl weren’t involved, I wasn’t interested. There is a lot to lament about aging, but refinements in musical tastes are a welcomed aspect of the whole gross affair. And at this advanced stage of the game, it’s a joy to drop the needle on a well-made couple of vinyl slabs in the interest of hearing traditional Country music with comparatively simple arrangements, but which requires great skill and advanced talent to pull off correctly. And Dwight Yoakam’s got it all. The lilting vocals, the crack band of accomplished players, and – most importantly – the songs. “Guitars, Cadillacs,” “What I Don’t Know,” “1,000 Miles,” and “I Sang Dixie” are all (well) represented amongst others. The recordings are better than good, if not great, and the performances smoke. (You could still smoke in 1988. Probably inside, if you were so inclined.) Buck Owens and Flaco Jimenez help with that.
Beyond the couple of guest spots, there’s nothing here to gum up the works at all. It’s a pretty straight shot. I will likely reach for these discs before the vintage original Dwight records in my collection because the recordings are more natural and the records are better made. These discs were pressed at MPO in France. I’ve read some unflattering comments from folks in the audiophile forums about what’s come out of MPO over the last few years, but I’ve had pretty consistently good luck with them. I still say that RTI is the gold standard, but MPO is coming on, in my opinion. They botched the second run of Bowie’s Blackstar record a couple of years back, and that turned me off to them in major ways, but my initial reaction is favorable when I learn that they’re behind the wheel today. This is a New West Records release, and it seemed like they used to use United exclusively. That’s all changed, and MPO is a vast improvement. We’ve already listened to the Widespread Panic entry into this series, and the quality was there for that one too. At this point, I’d say it’s safe to enter. There are forthcoming Doug Sahm, Merle Haggard, and Steve Earle titles to explore amongst others. I can’t wait…
All right. It’s Big Jack time again. Mr. White hadn’t foisted any new music on us in a couple of few years, and now he has. His new record is called Boarding House Reach. He’s got himself a new group of players, some new toys, and a brand new Funk Bag. 2018’s Barnum and Bailey axe man is all the way back. Whether you like it or not. This one’s going to be polarizing, I feel certain. It’s different. And it ain’t easy.
The first single is also the lead track on Side A. It’s called “Connected By Love,” and there’s not a ton going on with it on first listen. It’s kind of didactic, “chanty,” and static. It never really goes anywhere, but the repetition eventually permeated my defenses and I wound up looking forward to hearing it as a sort of preamble to the larger work. This record has been like a difficult crossword puzzle for me. I didn’t get too far on the first pass, and I wasn’t that interested in coming back to it. But I couldn’t resist the challenge of it. It kept taunting me, pressuring me into trying again. The second listen was more revealing. My opinion had begun to sway by the third session, and I was all the way in by the fourth. I’ve returned multiple times since, and I’ve found something new each time. And it’s no wonder. This ain’t 2016’s Jack White. There’s a lot going on. These tunes were recorded in three separate studios with different players at each. Many of the players were plucked from the touring bands of today’s hottest Hip-Hop artists.
As I understand it, Big Jack took the various recordings home, dumped them into ProTools (if you can believe that), then cut and pasted this whacky collage into being on his own time. The players wouldn’t have even known what songs they were creating according to my understanding of this technique. And that’s probably why “Respect Commander” employs two drummers, two bassists, and two percussionists. And three synth players. “Ice Station Zebra” involves White’s white rapping, and is a scrapped song from his unreleased collaboration with Jay-Z. “Why Walk A Dog?” is a zany slow burner that seems to advocate against pet ownership (“Did they know they were a cure / for you to stop being bored?”). There are Gospel backup singers, spoken word passages, congas, and all those synths. Big Jack plays expensive guitars on this one (Eddie Van Halen models, dude) rather than wrestling with his plastic dime store instruments of yore. He pivoted from his lifelong stance of avoiding high-tech and dove in with wild hair and both flaming feet. Like it or leave it, but the man has vision. He takes the bull by the horns. I’m in the saddle.
Strangely, I can’t tell that this record was pressed at White’s Third Man facility in Detroit. Mine does not have “TMP” (“Third Man Pressing”) engraved in the dead wax as my Muddy Waters reissue does, and the Third Man site does not state that the record was pressed there (as they do for many records that were). My Muddy record was well pressed, my copy of Boarding House Reach is less so. It’s crackly throughout, which is a shame because there’s a pretty big dynamic range despite the fact that this is obviously not an AAA affair. No digital copies included. Not for the weak hearted. I recommend it despite the pressing. A+ for effort.