Review #357: Rain Dogs, Tom Waits

Karla Clifton
2 min readMar 6, 2023

#357: Rain Dogs, Tom Waits

I kind of thought I knew who Tom Waits was — there are so many musical Toms (Morello, Petty, Verlaine, and my personal fave, Delonge) that he just kind of slid in with all the rest. Turns out I had NO idea who Tom Waits was. And turns out, he was a weirdo!

I mean it as a compliment, mostly. Tom Waits is the kind of singer-songwriter that makes you roll your eyes, but you still put on your album when you’re feeling a bit weird. And he was certainly a weird interview subject. Dig through these interviews if you want, there are weird quotes in every one. My favorite is where he compares his desire for sounds in which he’s “chased it and killed it, skinned it and cooked it.” Whatever THAT means.

Rain Dogs is a loose concept album based around the “urban dispossessed.” A rain dog is a down and out, wayward soul, probably a little scruffy to boot. To get an idea of the kind of people that populate this album, listen to “Rain Dogs” and “Bride Of Rain Dog.” The bride sounds like she might actually be having a better time.

Waits calls this musical style a mixture of “Appalachian and Nigerian,” which is utter nonsense. He pulls from a variety of musical styles, though — see “Cemetery Polka,” “Tango Till They’re Sore,” and the jazz-inspired waltz “Diamonds And Gold.” Also the big band “Midtown” and the space cowboy-outlaw “Gun Street Girl.” He even does some big ol’, real life rock songs, a la “Union Square” and “Blind Love.”

I had to come to terms with Waits’ voice. On opener “Singapore,” I legitimately thought he was doing a bit, a joke. By “Walking Spanish,” I was desensitized. His vocals on “Jockey Full of Bourbon” and “Big Black Mariah” (with Keith Richards!) make him sound much bigger than he is — I was shocked by a picture of him. He even does a pretty good Louis Armstrong impression on “Anywhere I Lay My Head.”

But on some of the ballads, his voice became this gruff, beautiful thing. “Hang Down Your Head” & “Time,” and “Downtown Train” are the three standout tracks, having been covered by the likes of Tori Amos and Rod Stewart.

It’s fitting that this album followed Gris-Gris, another experimental album that was far ahead of its time. It took me a few listens to “get” Tom Waits, but he’s a rewarding listen nonetheless.

Least/Most Favorite Song: “9th & Hennepin” was peak beat poet. I still can’t decide if I like it or not, but I do know that it makes me giggle.

Fun Fact: The guy on the cover is NOT Tom Waits!

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