Various Artists: Come On Up to the House: Women On Waits (Dualtone) Review | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Various Artists

Come On Up to the House: Women On Waits


Dec 23, 2019 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Given that for all practical purposes Tom Waits has been gone from the music scene for the last decade, an album of a dozen covers of his songs comes as a welcome gift. Additionally the songs are all performed by a clutch of the most talented women operating in the land today. Both artists that have been established for decades as well as several up and comers. To further spice up the mix, the songs, that were hand-picked by the individual artists, start with Waits’ earliest work, but end up rightfully weighted towards his post Swordfishtrombones era. And finally as Waits has characterized his songs as brawlers or bawlers in the past, most of these end up in the latter camp.

The genre defying trio Joseph start things out with a stark, but welcoming take on the title track. No doubt the album cover art is inspired by the song and it depicts Andrew Wyeth’s Christina healed and sashaying towards the front door. “Come On Up to the House” evolves to the best of secular-sounding hymns and the group’s clear piano driven read allows for Waits’ humor to shine through: “come down off the cross we could use the wood.” Aimee Mann’s slow burn cover of “Hold On” also proves quietly transcendent. Mann’s performance is a study in patience while still retaining the song’s low grade momentum.

When Phoebe Bridgers’ genius level interpretation of “Georgia Lee” hits, you wouldn’t be faulted to wonder if someone had managed to piece together a masterpiece of a covers album, which is invariably a near impossibility. Bridgers not only manages to brush up against her own like-titled “Georgia,” but Waits’ heartbreaking telling of the real-life, and still unsolved, murder of Georgia Lee Moses is devastating. Whether in his graveled rumble or Bridgers’ frail and crystalline take the song is a stunner. It’s unclear if Bridgers had any political intent in covering the song (and probably not), but it is nonetheless sadly relevant. Moses’ name should not be forgotten and what Bridgers has done here relatively early in her career is masterful. Given the number of feathers in her cap of late, it may be time for a new hat.

The other two songs that reach to the otherworldly are Iris DeMent’s later take on “House Where Nobody Lives” and Corinne Bailey Rae’s “Jersey Girl.” DeMent is accompanied by Lambchop veteran Paul Niehaus on pedal steel, but the true pathos of the song is communicated through DeMent’s patented and perfectly shaped tone. If you are familiar with her work, “House” makes the perfect next chapter to her own sad tale, “The Night I Learned How Not to Pray.” As empty a tale as DeMent conveys, Bailey Rae shows us the other side of the coin. If you didn’t think you needed another version of the Waits/Springsteen staple, Bailey Rae proves that decidedly wrong. Her playful lilt captures the romance of the boardwalk perfectly and should supplant whatever version of “Jersey Girl” it is they play on the Shore these days.

Given the opening salvo of the album (ironically the first three songs are all from Mule Variations) and a strong close, there are a few missteps to quibble about along the way. As welcome as it is to see Shelby Lynne on record singing with sister Allison Moorer, their “Ol ‘55” is much closer to The Eagles’ pop version and frankly not one of Waits’ best songs. Given the nearly identical chorus you do have to wonder if Jennifer Warnes’ “Right Time of the Night” of a few years’ later was derived from this song. Though the grand dames here, namely Patty Griffin and Rosanne Cash, do fully respectable versions of “Ruby’s Arms” and “Time,” the songs are similarly paced and sequenced next to each other creating a bit of drag in the proceedings. Aside from not reaching the heights of some of the other interpretations, they are fine recordings and having Bailey Rae’s song mid-album rights the ship. The same unfortunately can’t be said for the only dud here. The otherwise understated Courtney Marie Andrews for some reason performs an over sung take on “Downtown Train” that sends the song careening off the rails.

Certainly worthy of mention, Kat Edmonson gets the most creative both in song choice and interpretation on “You Can Never Hold Back Spring.” Her fanciful take not only teases out the feel of the song, but would fit perfectly in a like-themed early era Broadway musical. The closing “Tom Traubert’s Blues” not only proves the best of the older songs here, but The Wild Reeds make for an apt trio to bookend Joseph’s opener. Sharon Silva’s opening verse is smoky and sublime and the song recalls Waits’ earlier boho days. A solid closer on which to crack open another fifth of Old Crow to cry your tears into.

All in all, Come On Up to the House proves much better than a mixed-bag, where the fistful of sublime moments are adorned with plenty of other nearly equivalent interpretations. If these types of albums are put up for Grammy’s it could easily garner a few given the range of talent on hand. Even if no one saw fit to cover “Filipino Box Spring Hog,” Bridgers’ and DeMent’s tracks in particular are custom tailored to get Waits out of his Barcalounger and out on stage for a duet. A fitting tribute of an album performed by some of the best in the business. (

Author rating: 7.5/10

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Average reader rating: 2/10


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