Tom Waits: The Early Years

Before dissolving into the role of beatnik barfly, Tom Waits was a folkie singer-songwriter with just a hint of the extravagantly ruined voice and jazz orientation that would become his trademarks. Recorded in 1971, prior to Waits’ vinyl debut (with which it shares four songs), this previously unreleased album — sparely produced, usually with just one guitar or piano for accompaniment — displays Waits’ subterranean sentimentality in raw, unpremeditated form; the annoying electronic buzz that runs through ”Midnight Lullabye” indicates just how loose the sessions were. Maintaining his artistic distance from the characters in such vividly drawn tales as ”Poncho’s Lament” and ”Frank’s Song,” Waits inverts the singsong optimism of a James Taylor to marvel at the romance of life on the rocks, giving the low-key songs weight with solid melodies and an engaging, rustic delivery. In its Oz-like peek behind a manipulated persona, The Early Years sadly reveals the extent of Waits’ subsequent self-consciousness. C+

Tom Waits: The Early Years
  • Music