This is what I love about Tom Waits: The man can write the saddest, poignant love songs but still scare the bejesus out of me with his audible experiments and Big Bad Wolf voice. Real Gone is Waits' strongest release in a few years, closely related to 1992's Bone Machine in theme and in its mix of rock and blues-rattle. "Top of the Hill" opens the album, a blistering, thumping display of how ridiculously versatile Waits is. A turntable scratches and samples, a guitar explores with a looping light blues sound, and damn if it isn't danceable. The mood carries on with "Hoist That Rag," showcasing Waits' rumbling growl (and Primus frontman bassist Les Claypool, who appears on most tracks). "How's It Gonna End" invokes French cafes, while relaying the tale of a litany of losers. Lyrically, it's familiar territory: a fascinatingly dirty landscape of old leather boots and rusty nails that fans will recognize as typical Waits noir.
Feelin' Kinda Patton
No, this isn't music, but it is in CD form, and it is essential. Patton Oswalt, a stand-up comedian who has been showcased on Comedy Central's specials and Reno 911!, is a gnomish fellow with a lot to say. Recorded live, Feelin' Kinda Patton never fails to miss its mark. Like David Cross and Dave Attell, the man's comedy is often amazingly smart and approachable. Enjoy as he relates how '80s metal bands' videos showed how hard they rocked by actually altering the physical properties of things, like blowing holes through walls and changing your Honda into a Lamborghini ("Thanks, Night Ranger!"). Other highlights include tales of his new TiVo trying to divine what shows he likes, how demonic Alvin and the Chipmunk's Christmas record is on slow play, and the many magical uses for midgets. Oh my yes, Oswalt's humor is often harsh and un-PC (c'mon, it's just plain wrong), but I haven't laughed this hard in a long time.
When does poetry become hip-hop? Is it simply a matter of applying a catchy hook or a thudding beat? Saul Williams is a master of both schools, an MC who has produced a book of poetry, but has always been above any arty pretension. His self-titled album Saul Williams blurs the lines between spoken-word performance and hip-hop, producing a set where one bleeds seamlessly into the other. The quiet "Talk to Strangers" introduces the recurring mood for the album, urgent messages for desperate times. Rock guitars rip into "Telegraph," playing hip-hop fantasy against the true ghetto reality. With a nod to rap's origins, he instructs, "Please see that mixer and turntables are returned to Kool Herc." While "African Student Movement" slides with a deep, sexy rumble, "Grippo" has an outrageously infectious dance beat with a looping dub hook. Here, Williams raps with a vocal quality that nears punk rock aesthetics: "I gave hip-hop to white boys when nobody was looking. They found it locked in a basement when they gentrified Brooklyn."