Sunday, July 26, 2009

Rock of Ages: Tom Waits - "Jockey Full of Bourbon" (1985)

Say what you want about Tom Waits, whether you are in the camp that he is a visionary staple in the world of popular music, or if he is just too out their, weird and gruff for your tastes. He is easily an artist that splits the camp. You love him or you hate him. My love of Tom Waits is not huge. He is the kind of artist that is defined by mood. You are either in that Tom Waits mood or you have no time for it. But when you are in that dark, moody, smokey place, my word is the man a home run hitter. It's hard to pick one song from his 1985 masterpiece Rain Dogs, but it must be done. Somehow falling on the less strange side is the track "Jockey Full of Bourbon", a song of desperation and of full on debauchery, thanks to the titular tincture. The song is noted for it's interesting percussion sounds, which to the description of the recording of Rain Dogs could very well be Waits whacking any number of things with a 2 by 4. The guitar slugs along with hazy and a stumbled approach, as if the ax itself was drunk, thanks to Marc Ribot.

Tom Waits is like Bob Dylan in many ways. He has a hand hold on the American spirit, but more of the disparate side of it all. Rain Dogs is an album of those lost American souls whose American dreams are all but washed away with the rain leaving them lost. "Jockey Full of Bourbon" is a great song about this topic. It's a jangly song about the dark side of the New York Streets, where Waits was writing this album. Like Dylan, his voice is harsh and gruff, but about 100 times more intense. Where Dylan takes the music of Folk and Country, two very American voices, Waits uses jazz, blues and other strange sides of American music. He's a magician this way. He tailor made his own sound on Rain Dogs that is all at once alien and reminiscent of things we've heard. It's a fantastic ride into the heart of darkness of the American subculture.

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