New Coat of Paint: Songs of Tom Waits
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Forget that bit about imitation being the most sincere form of flattery: in music at least, an artist truly pays tribute to another by fully appropriating his work and making it his own. Such is the case on Coat of Paint: Songs of Tom Waits, easily one of the best releases in the frequently tiresome genre of tribute albums. Indeed, the late Screamin' Jay Hawkins's delirious take on Waits's voodoo classic "Whistlin' Past the Graveyard" is so dead-on that it's almost inconceivable that he didn't write it. The same could be said for soul-man Andre Williams's sleazy version of "Pasties and a G-String," Flat Duo Jets' Dexter Romweber's manic "Romeo Is Bleeding," and Knoxville Girls' supremely tacky "Virginia Avenue." Lydia Lunch has been rewriting and singing "Heartattack and Vine" for at least 20 years, whether she wrote the original or not. Perhaps the single most impressive act of reappropriation comes from one-man band Christopher Watkins, a.k.a. Preacher Boy, with a mournful, near-orchestral version of "Old Boyfriends." And a trio of torchy ballads from Congo Norvell's Sally Norvell, Geraldine Fibbers' Carla Bozulich, and Eleni Mandell further illustrate the breath of Waits's huge body of work. New Coat of Paint is given an inner cohesion by the incestuous, intermarried connections of several of the acts, all veterans (appropriately) of Los Angeles's outlaw underground music scene. Perhaps the greatest compliment is that most of these tracks don't beg comparisons to the originals at all, but simply stand alone as classic compositions from the songbook of an iconoclastic American master of gutter poetry. --Carl Hanni
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In my collection, I have four different covers of Heartattack and Vine, and Lydia Lunch's is still my favorite. Muriel is great done in prayerful whispers, and the guy that sings Broken Bicycles lays down a dirge for a vocal track. Screamin' Jay opens the throttle up wide on Whistlin', and the call-and-answer format of Virginia Avenue is really neat.
I like music that doesn't sound like everything else. That's why I like Tom. If that's why you listen, you owe it to yourself to pick up both this and "Step Right Up," which, in its own way, is even weirder and more wonderful than this one.