The Black Rider by Tom Waits on Apple Music

20 Songs

EDITORS’ NOTES

Working with two challenging avant-garde artists, avant-garde theater director Robert Wilson and novelist Williams S. Burroughs, Tom Waits could only add to the stakes of high weirdness. Waits’ music had been growing progressively darker and stranger with every release for years. This next challenge, to marry his musical vision with their skewered concepts and story, led to an album that is among the most difficult in the Waits’ canon. Its sound is dense, a Phil Spector Wall of Sound where the walls have come from the horror movie factory with eyeballs looking back and scrutinizing every move. Not that one expects accessibility from a Tom Waits recording, but these are eerie, extreme tone poems. For those drawn to dark moments, the effects are greatly satisfying. “Black Box Theme” creaks past with a slow, morbid crawl that sounds as if it were recorded centuries ago, while “’T’ain’t No Sin” with William Burroughs narrating and Greg Cohen offering off-kilter bass clarinet emits from a room somewhere in the back of an old house. The songs flow into one another, creating extended dreamlike sequences. Not for everyone, but extremely satisfying for those looking to escape alongside a foggy sea with little light or land in sight.

EDITORS’ NOTES

Working with two challenging avant-garde artists, avant-garde theater director Robert Wilson and novelist Williams S. Burroughs, Tom Waits could only add to the stakes of high weirdness. Waits’ music had been growing progressively darker and stranger with every release for years. This next challenge, to marry his musical vision with their skewered concepts and story, led to an album that is among the most difficult in the Waits’ canon. Its sound is dense, a Phil Spector Wall of Sound where the walls have come from the horror movie factory with eyeballs looking back and scrutinizing every move. Not that one expects accessibility from a Tom Waits recording, but these are eerie, extreme tone poems. For those drawn to dark moments, the effects are greatly satisfying. “Black Box Theme” creaks past with a slow, morbid crawl that sounds as if it were recorded centuries ago, while “’T’ain’t No Sin” with William Burroughs narrating and Greg Cohen offering off-kilter bass clarinet emits from a room somewhere in the back of an old house. The songs flow into one another, creating extended dreamlike sequences. Not for everyone, but extremely satisfying for those looking to escape alongside a foggy sea with little light or land in sight.

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3:21
2:53
3:35
2:42
2:25
1:10
1:07
3:50
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2:33
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2:43
4:43
0:18
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3:42
2:07
1:16

About Tom Waits

In the 1970s, Tom Waits combined a lyrical focus on desperate, low-life characters with a persona that seemed to embody the same lifestyle, which he sang about in a raspy, gravelly voice. From the '80s on, his work became increasingly theatrical as he moved into acting and composing. Growing up in Southern California, Waits attracted the attention of manager Herb Cohen, who also handled Frank Zappa, and was signed by him at the beginning of the 1970s, resulting in the material later released as The Early Years and The Early Years, Vol. 2. His formal recording debut came with Closing Time (1973) on Asylum Records, an album that contained "Ol' 55," which was covered by labelmates the Eagles for their On the Border album. Waits attracted critical acclaim and a cult audience for his subsequent albums, The Heart of Saturday Night (1974), the two-LP live set Nighthawks at the Diner (1975), Small Change (1976), Foreign Affairs (1977), Blue Valentine (1978), and Heart Attack and Vine (1980). His music and persona proved highly cinematic, and, starting in 1978, he launched parallel careers as an actor and as a composer of movie music. He wrote songs for and appeared in Paradise Alley (1978), wrote the title song for On the Nickel (1980), and was hired by director Francis Coppola to write the music for One from the Heart (1982), which earned him an Academy Award nomination. While working on that project, Waits met and married playwright Kathleen Brennan, with whom he later collaborated.

Moving to Island Records, Waits made Swordfishtrombones (1983), which found him experimenting with horns and percussion and using unusual recording techniques. The same year, he appeared in Coppola's Rumble Fish and The Outsiders, and, in 1984, he appeared in the director's The Cotton Club. In 1985, he released Rain Dogs. In 1986, he appeared in Down by Law and made his theatrical debut with Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre in Frank's Wild Years, a musical play he had written with Brennan. An album based on the play was released in 1987, the same year Waits appeared in the films Candy Mountain and Ironweed. In 1988, he released a film and soundtrack album depicting one of his concerts, Big Time. In 1989, he appeared in the films Bearskin: An Urban Fairytale, Cold Feet, and Wait Until Spring. His work for the theater continued in 1990 when Waits partnered with opera director Robert Wilson and beat novelist William Burroughs and staged The Black Rider in Hamburg, Germany. In 1991, he appeared in the films Queens' Logic, The Fisher King, and At Play in the Fields of the Lord. In 1992, he scored the film Night on Earth; released the album Bone Machine, which won a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album; appeared in the film Bram Stoker's Dracula; and returned to Hamburg for the staging of his second collaboration with Robert Wilson, Alice. The Black Rider was documented on CD in 1993, the same year Waits appeared in the film Short Cuts.

A long absence from recording resulted in the 1998 release of Beautiful Maladies, a retrospective of his work for Island. In 1999, Waits finally returned with a new album, Mule Variations. The record was a critical success, winning a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk album, and was also his first for the independent Epitaph Records' Anti subsidiary. A small tour followed, but Waits jumped right back into the studio and began working on not one but two new albums. By the time he emerged in the spring of 2002, both Alice and Blood Money were released on Anti Records. Blood Money consisted of the songs from the third Wilson/Waits collaboration that was staged in Denmark in 2000 and won Best Drama of the Year. After limited touring in support of these two endeavors, Waits returned to the recording studio and issued Real Gone in 2004. The album marked a large departure for him in that it contained no keyboards at all, focusing only on stringed and rhythm instruments. Glitter and Doom Live appeared in 2009. Waits didn't release another studio album of new material until 2011, when he issued Bad as Me on Anti in the Fall. He uncharacteristically issued a track listing two months in advance of the release, and the pre-release title track as a digital single. He also took the unusual step of releasing a video in which he allowed bits of all the album's songs to play while he scolded bloggers and peer-to-peer sites for invading his privacy. ~ William Ruhlmann

  • ORIGIN
    Pomona, CA
  • BORN
    Dec 7, 1949

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