By SANDY COHEN, The Associated Press
Tom Waits' first album of new music in seven years is a satisfying treat spanning his various sounds and styles. The 61-year-old musician is in peak form, working his voice like another one of his instruments – spitting and wailing on some tracks, charming with his haunting falsetto on another.
Waits brings in a host of celebrated musicians to help him tell stories about heartache, war, life and living on "Bad as Me." Bluesman Charlie Musselwhite contributes harmonica to several tracks; veteran keyboardist Augie Meyers plays piano, organ and accordion; David Hidalgo of Los Lobos plays guitar on a few songs, as does the legendary Keith Richards, while Flea and Les Claypool contribute bass lines. Waits' son, Casey Waits, plays drums on most of the album's 13 tracks (The deluxe version has three additional songs).
"Bad as Me" opens with "Chicago," a mood-setting, rollicking track that chugs along like a bluesy freight train powered by Richards' guitar and Waits' growling vocals and banjo twang.
An animated Waits channels Elvis Presley and Wolfman Jack – and mentions both – in the rowdy "Get Lost," which rips like an old blues joint, touting the fun of having fun.
Claypool, Musselwhite and Richards play together on "Satisfied," where Waits howls about the satisfaction he will have "before I'm gone." Richards, Musselwhite and Flea join on the hard-rocking anti-war rant, "Hell Broke Luce," which layers real artillery sounds over snarling guitars.
Waits also shows his gentle side with poetic ballads such as "Kiss Me," a heart-wrenching track that sounds like it was recovered from an old vinyl record. "Kiss me like a stranger once again," he sings, his gravelly voice pained. He's Elvis-like again on the Latin-flavored "Back in the Crowd."
With its range of moods and sounds, "Bad as Me" is a timeless collection that reflects an artist in full possession of his gifts.
CHECK OUT THIS TRACK: Get a taste of Waits' trademark wail and his penchant for foot-stomping blues on the title single: