Waits is a songwriter’s songwriter. The first track on his first album, “Ol’ ’55”, was also one of the earliest tracks recorded by the Eagles, on their top 20 debut album. Although Tom’s recording evince fine musicianship, one doesn’t listen to a Tom Waits album for the guitar playing. The first attraction is a desire to see whether it’s possible to sing an entire album in that unbelievably gravelly low voice. It’s not long until you’re so wrapped up in the stories he tells that even that remarkable voice is secondary to the tales it tells.
Waits’ songs seem to be populated from film noir, or in fact, from almost any old movie. Except, we rarely hear a complete story. Instead, we catch a snippet of conversation as we pass on the street; we overhear a private conversation in the next booth; we carry on a brief pointless conversation with a total stranger; never quite hearing the whole story, we still feel like these are real people, and that somehow they’re important to us. While many of his tunes display a ready wit, the sad songs never seem trite; they’re too simple and real to be dismissed so lightly.