If it's the Tom Waits from his Rain Dogs, Bone Machine era that you've come to know and love, then now is the time in which I challenge you to go back in time to this debut album of his, Closing Time, in which Waits swaps intricate, bizarre instrumental arrangements and frantic lyrics for slow churning, jazzy piano ballads that will set the perfect mood this evening.
In my recent exploration of Waits' catalogue, I was shocked and supremely pleased to find this gem of an album that began everything for Waits. He hasn't yet picked up the muddy gravel vocals and his pipes shine amidst these simple, straightforward ballads. Although the setup for the tracks is simple, with a piano, double bass, and drummer laying most of the framework, the beatnik lyrical style still flourishes his songs about love, lust, and life. It is an album for a man trapped in the city at night. It fits images of characters from local bar scenes and dark alleyways into your mind, and presses them even further until you can actually understand them. Waits is tender and gentle the whole way through.
Even though the album is straightforward and feels unified by a common sound, Waits still succeeds in covering a large set of sounds and genres in the time he's got. He dabbles in country on the beautiful "Old Shoes" ballad, tackles on smooth jazz with the addition of saxaphone on "Virginia Avenue", "Midnight Lullaby", and the gorgeous instrumental closer, appropriately called "Closing Time". The only time the album really picks up is on the casually super cool "Ice Cream Man" near the end. Then there's "Martha", my favorite track, which is just Tom Waits and his piano. If you're a big Waits fan, you may be pleasantly shocked to hear this album. If you're not a big Waits' fan or never thought you could get into him, at least give this one a chance, its a beautiful album for just about anyone.