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Tom Waits made a massive musical leap fom his debut album to Small Change. And perhaps discovered what he really wanted to do musically, the change is instantly noticeable.
Step Right Up sounds like a beat poet singing along to smoky club jazz. The jazzy elements were always element in Waits work but he takes it one step further. Donning his best Sesame Street character voice he creates a copletely new guise for himself. I have some theory that Waits hides behind his voices to make him appear less vulnerable, if he's playing a character whilst he's singing, he's not playing himself and therefore he's less liable for blame if people dislike his music (I'm an amateur what can I say) either that or he takes creativity and theatrics in music to a whole new unique level....
The Piano Has Been Drinking is a sort of signature piece for Waits. He once again brings out his old drunkards voice and warbles his way through the track. His piano work also reflects the songs content with it's messy, all over the place piano work. His music is part dramatic that's for sure, and he paints characters in his songs perfectly with his frank, descriptive lyrics as well as his telling wino growl. Bob Dylan doesn't sound too disimilar to Waits these days as a matter of fact.
I Can't Wait To Get Off To Work sees the album off. The songs appear similar in style to one another. You have the one man and his piano songs with jazzier or bluesier numbers breaking them up at intervals. Songs like this see Waits as a world weary man, yet sensitive man, left often broken hearted and still wearing his heart on his sleeve. Songs like this make you feel as if been let right into Waits' mind to hear his intermost thoughts.
Small Change is a nice album filled with piano ballad numbers as well as jazzier and bluesier numbers with Tom often playing a beat poet to every success. He's more than a one trick pony but some songs still sound hauntingly similar.
SMALL CHANGE" is a classic Tom Waits album—one his fans should not be without and a great introduction to Waits for those less familiar with his music. "Small Change", along with "Swordfishtrombones", "Raindogs", "Frank’s Wild Years" and the unreleased bootleg "Alice", are my favourite Waits albums; "Small Change" is one of Waits’ earliest albums (from 1976). "Small Change" is a folk-lyrical series of ballads sungs—if you might imagine it—by a beer-and-whisky-soaked, down-on-his-luck, broken-hearted man who’s caught you by the elbow down the pub. It’s a bar-stool confessional (as Waits bums the money for another shot off of you) a drunken tale of unrequited love and hard luck. The music is uniquely Waits, but the best description I can give is of a cross between American folk, jazz and blues. This album brilliantly demonstrates Waits’ talent both as a song-writer and as a singer. The album opens with a classic, “Tom Traubert’s Blues” [which has been covered by Rod Stewart], as Waits catches your elbow as you get up from the bar, mistaking you through his empty whisky-glass for an old friend (‘Wasted and wounded, it ain't what the moon did…got what I paid for now…See ya tomorrow, hey Frank can I borrow a couple of bucks from you?…Now I lost my Saint Christopher now that I've kissed her…and the one-armed bandit knows…and the maverick Chinaman and the cold-blooded signs...And the girls down by the strip-tease shows…Go, waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda. You'll go a waltzing Matilda with me’). “Step Right Up” is an upbeat, hilarious, probably extemporaneous piece of ‘beatnik-satire’ on capitalism and advertising, Waits singing the figure of an ‘everything-must-go’ salesman of a incredible (if undescribable)
product which ‘no-one should be without’ (‘Step right up, step right up, step right up…everyone's a winner, bargains galore…that's right, you too can be the proud owner…That's right: it filets, it chops, it dices, slices…Never stops, lasts a lifetime, mows your lawn….and it mows your lawn and it picks up the kids from school…How do we do it? How do we do it? volume, volume, turn up the volume…and it’s only a dollar…c’mon and step right up’) In “Jitterbug Boy” you come out of the pub late at night and Tom, leaning unsteadily against a street-light, tugs your sleeve (‘So you'll ask me what I'm doing here holding up a lamp post, flipping this quarter, trying to make up my mind: And if it's heads I'll go to Tennessee, and tails I'll buy a drink, if it lands on the edge I'll keep talking to you’) “I Wish I Was in New Orleans”, Tom sadly recalls the ‘good ol’ days’ in New Orleans (‘Well, I wish I was in New Orleans…I can see it in my dreams…Arm-in-arm down Burgundy, a bottle and my friends and me’) Next, Tom stumbles over, sits down at the bar-piano and begins crooning out “The Piano Has Been Drinking” – a down-and-out bar-room singer fallen on bad times, and the worse for drink – another sadly humorous song (‘The piano has been drinking…My necktie's asleep and the carpet needs a haircut…the telephone's out of cigarettes and the balcony is on the make…’cause the piano has been drinking….not me, not me, not me’) Sobered-up the next day, Tom visits a greasy-spoon diner somewhere out on a lonely highway and we hear his inner speculations over the life of pretty, if tired-looking, waitress he’s ogling and trying to screw-up the courage to chat-up in “Invita
tion To The Blues”: (‘Well she's up against the register, with an apron and a spatula, with yesterday's deliveries and the tickets for the Bachelors…She's a moving violation from her conk down to her shoes…but it's just an invitation to the blues…You wonder if she might be single…This ain't nothing but an invitation to the blues…But you can't take your eyes off her - get another cup of java…And it's just the way she pours it for you…’ ”Pasties and a G-string” - Tom slums it in a strip-club and sings sexy, dirty lyrics: ‘Smelling like a brewery, looking like a tramp - I ain't got a quarter, got a postage stamp…Been five o'clock shadow boxing all around the town…And the porno floor show - Live nude girls - Dreamy and creamy, and the brunette curls…Pasties and a g-string, beer and a shot…Cleavage, cleavage thighs and hips from the nape of her neck to the lip stick lips…She's hot and ready and creamy and sugared and the band is awful and so are the tunes…Crawlin’ on her belly, shakin’ like jelly and I'm getting harder than Chinese algebraziers and cheers…’) “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart” - Tom tries to drink away his romantic problems and confides in you: (‘Well I got a bad liver and a broken heart…Yea I drunk me a river since you tore me apart and I don't have a drinking problem 'cept when I can't get a drink…And I wish you'd a known her - We were quite a pair: She was sharp as a razor and soft as a prayer…’) Waits’ “The One that Got Away” is another unrequited love-ballad sung by a street-wise Tom somewhere in the depths of a big city: (‘Well I've lost my equilibrium,my car keys and my pride. The tattoo-parlor's warm and so I huddle there inside - Then grinding of the buz
z-saw: Whatchuwanthathingtosay? I said, just don't misspell her name, Buddy, she's the one that got away…’) In “Small Change (Got Rained On With His Own .38)”, Tom chronicles a midnight murder of some small-time gangster: (‘Small Change got rained on with his own .38 And nobody flinched down by the arcade, and the marquise weren't weeping - they went stark-raving mad and the cabbies were the only ones that really had it made…And his cold trousers were twisted and the sirens high and shrill and crumpled in his fist was a five-dollar bill…And the naked mannikins with their Cheshire grins and the raconteurs and roustabouts said “Buddy, come on in” – ‘cause the dreams ain't broken down here now - No, they're walking with a limp, now that Small Change got rained on with his own .38’) To end the album, Tom, working a late-shift at shop or diner is left to close-up; and sings to and dances with his broom: (‘Well I don't mind working ‘cause I used to be jerkin off most of my time in the bars. I've been a cabbie and a stock clerk and a soda fountain jock jerk and a manic mechanic on cars…It's nice work if you can get it…Now who the hell said it? I got money to spend on my gal…But the work never stops and I'll be busting my chops working for Joe and Sal…”Tom do this and Tom do that and Tom don’t do that”…And I can't wait to get off work and see my baby…She'll be waiting up with a magazine for me – “Clean the bathrooms, clean um good”… Oh your lovin’ I wish you would come down here and sweepameoffmyfeet - This broom'll have to be my baby…If I hurry, I just might get off before the dawn’s early light…’ "SMALL CHANGE" is one of Waits’ best and most solid albums – brilliantly written, bee
r-and-booze-soaked love-ballads of the late-night life of being down-and-out and heart-broken (but not defeated) in big American cities. If you’re already a Waits’ fan – you shouldn’t be without this album, of all of his albums. If you’re not a Waits’ fan (you should be and) – I still recommend this album (as I said before, it’s an excellent intro to Tom’s work). If you enjoy jazz, blues, American folk music or beatnik poetry you’ll surely enjoy Tom Waits – and "Small Change" is one of his best - a desert-island disc!
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Tom Traubert's Blues
2 Step Right Up
3 Jitterbug Boy
4 I Wish I Was In New Orleans
5 Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)
6 Invitation To The Blues
7 Pasties And A G String
8 Bad Liver And A Broken Heart
9 One That Got Away
10 Small Change
11 I Can't Wait To Get Off Work