Sweet New Arrivals: Rain Dogs

Another week, another hump day, another Sweet New Arrival! We got a nice haul of new CDs in this week, with a clear highlight being this week’s featured arrival: Tom Waits’s 1985 album Rain Dogs.

A favorite of our librarian, Sam, since his college days, this album is also considered by many to be Waits’s best. Considering the American singer-songwriter’s four-decade career, full of highly acclaimed albums, that’s no small compliment.

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Rain Dogs was the second album in a trilogy that Waits recorded for Island Records in the 1980s (the first was 1983’s Swordfishtrombones and the third was 1987’s Franks Wild Years). These three albums found the singer-songwriter, originally a beat poetry-influenced, Billy Joel-style piano balladeer (already an interesting combination), experimenting with a very different palette of sounds (including horns, bagpipes, and other instruments uncommon in the rock idiom), songwriting style and philosophy. Influenced by his wife, Kathleen Brennan, German folk songs, American pre-rock music, & Captain Beefheart, Waits ditched the piano songs for a strange collection of observations on the lives of New York’s seedier characters.

And of course, this is the album on which Waits’ distinctive huff of a voice found a home. While he had originally possessed a warmer, more conventional singing voice, a decade of excess wreaked havoc on his vocal cords. By 1985, sounding like a streetwise Cookie Monster (no joke), Waits’ gruff growl was the perfect vehicle for his desperate tales.

While I personally have yet to truly get into Rain Dogs, what I’ve heard so far is unlike anything I’ve ever listened to (and I’d like to think I’ve listened to a decent amount). It’s an album truly of its own style, and its mix of idiosyncratic vocals, dark weirdness, inventive, primitivist instrumentation and the occasional heartbreaking ballad make it completely one of a kind. Highly recommended if you’re trying to expand your musical brain. Right here in the music library.

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