TOM WAITS - BRAWLERS (2LP/ BLACK VINYL)
Brawlers presents probably the best-known of Tom Waits' personalities, filled as it is with vocal cord damage, found percussion, old-timey arrangements, and cartoon-buzz lead guitar. It's also the disc that flirts most dangerously with clich , filled as it is with his well-trod inventory of Americana underbelly images: trains, jailhouses, barrooms, etc. However, the secret of Waits' act is how well he deploys these should-be-tired cultural touchstones; at the very least, he sounds more comfortable in the role of a boxcar-hopper than he does reciting the ripped-from-the-headlines Middle East folk song "Road to Peace". Certainly it helps that he continues to buck the aging rocker career trend of increasing cleanliness, wrapping these songs in dirt-grit production that keeps the Big Bopper warble of "Lie to Me" or the garage 12-bar Ramones cover "The Return of Jackie and Judy" from sounding like a House of Blues exhibit.