RECORDINGS : Quick Spins

RECORDINGS : Quick Spins

Tom Waits reaches new heights on two of the three discs in his new release,
Tom Waits reaches new heights on two of the three discs in his new release, "Orphans"; above right, Laura Pausini stylishly renders Italian pop hits into Spanish with "Yo Canto." (By Danny Clinch)
Sunday, December 3, 2006



Tom Waits

Tom Waits doesn't slur just his voice. He slurs everything: rhythm, instruments, production, songwriting. "I try my best to chug, stomp, weep, whisper, moan, wheeze, scat, blurt, rage, whine, and seduce," he writes in liner notes for this three-CD collection of 26 rarities and 30 new songs.

As "Orphans" shows over and over, Waits has an uncanny talent for bending the entirety of a song to his vocal will.

In his laryngitic Louis Armstrong style, the 56-year-old singer-songwriter goes beautifully over the top throughout the first and best disc, "Brawlers." Waits and his band sound like Godzilla let loose in the studio during the Ramones' "The Return of Jackie and Judy," the roar of vocals, guitars, drums and perhaps a few kitchen implements making it blissfully impossible to follow the story. They tone down a notch -- but only just -- on the absurdly funny "Fish in the Jailhouse" and the Arab-Israeli sociopolitical epic "Road to Peace."

By Disc 2, even Waits die-hards might need a bathroom break -- and they get too much of one on "Bawlers." The high points are very high, particularly spare, teary crooners like "You Can Never Hold Back Spring," "Young at Heart" and "Little Drop of Poison" (complete with musical saw).

But disc 3, "Bastards," is a very strange alarm clock -- folk tales, children's stories, sonic experiments, out-there singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston's "King Kong" and out-there poet Charles Bukowski's "Nirvana." The album closes with a shaggy-dog joke about the grocery store, followed by Waits laughing uproariously through what seems like 50 cigarettes.

"Orphans" is an endurance test, but a guy like this never wears out his welcome.

-- Steve Knopper

DOWNLOAD THESE:"The Return of Jackie and Judy," "Road to Peace," "Young at Heart"


Laura Pausini

Italian singer Laura Pausini has sold more than 26 million albums worldwide, and at the age of 32 already has four greatest-hits collections to her credit. But except for those U.S. music lovers who know her club hit, "Surrender," from a few years ago, she's almost unknown here outside of Latino circles.

And that's too bad because Pausini is a stylish, powerful pop singer. Her latest release, "Yo Canto," is a valentine to both of the audiences that sustain her: A collection of favorite Italian pop hits aimed at her vast Hispanic following. Pausini produced, arranged many of the songs and did much of the Italian-to-Spanish translation. (Both the heavily promoted Spanish and the less popular Italian version, "Io Canto," are available in the United States, though only the Spanish version can be downloaded from iTunes.) Featuring hits from as far back as the 1970s to just a few years ago, "Yo Canto" includes songs by Italian pop stars Ivano Fossati ("Y Mi Banda Toca el Rock"), Claudio Baglioni ("Por el Camino"), Eros Ramazzotti ("Estrella Gemela") and Zucchero ("Como el Sol Inesperado"), another Italian pop star who has found commercial oxygen among Spanish speakers.

Colombian rocker Juanes makes an appearance on "Mi Libre Cancion," which is actually, well, pretty, but Pausini's solo version, also included here, is so poignant that the duet seems beside the point. The collaboration with fellow Italian Tiziano Ferro on the single "No Me lo Puedo Explicar" works considerably better, though again the solo version is strong enough to stand on its own.

What distinguishes Pausini, especially among Latina pop singers, is her cool sophistication. She can belt with the best of them, but she can also whisper and purr. Moreover, her sensibilities are essentially European -- elegant and impeccable.

-- Achy Obejas

DOWNLOAD THESE:"Y Mi Banda Toca el Rock," "Mi Libre Cancion," "Como el Sol Inesperado"

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