Here’s a little parlour game to play: Name even a half-decent triple album. Okay, so it was something of a trick question. Usually when you think of gargantian triple albums, over-blown prog rock concept albums by Yes and ELP spring to mind or even the Clash’s overblown 'Sandinista!'

And in this climate, one of rock’s true authentic voices, Tom Waits decides to be willfully obtuse and release the three disc set 'Orphans'. And it is simply wonderful.

The collection of 58 songs – 30 of which are new – are subdivided up into 'Brawlers' (as close as Waits gets to making a party mix tape), 'Bawlers' (which gathers up softer, ballad-style vignettes) and, best of the lot, 'Bastards' (here Waits’ experimental bent gets let loose along with some hidden storytelling).

Despite 'Orphans' being something of a ragtag collection it’s a sturdy testament to his creativity and it stands up equally with any of his "proper" albums.

Although Waits is close to being 57 years-old he’s certainly more vital than most floppy-fringed indie-wannabes who know a few chords and are photogenic in a pair of skinny jeans. And he has far more to say. Albeit the anti-war protest of 'Road to Peace' about the Israeli-Palestine conflict to the beautiful love song 'You Can Never Hold Back Spring'. Even covering Lead Belly’s 'Goodnight Irene' or Daniel Johnston’s 'King Kong' he remains captivating.

Waits and his wife Kathleen Brennan have carved out a unique niche for Waits’ talents. His gruff, dust-bowl growl comes on like the mutterings of a depression era hobo and makes perfect sense as he spins his yarns deeply rooted in the American vernacular and drawing on its myths and legends. Musically he has a wide palate to draw upon – country, folk, traditional blues, even jazz and gospel and what can only be described as "Waitsian”, a sort of Brechtian saloon-bar drawl.

From the start of the opening 'Lie to Me' (which is probably as close as Waits has got to doing an impression of Elvis Presley) 'Orphans' grabs the listener and doesn’t let up until the end of the unlisted spoken word tracks at the end of 'Bastards'. It grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go.

Only he most cynical will grumpily complain that 'Orphans' is overly long and lacks focus. Album of 2006 without question.









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