Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Jeffrey Bützer and Tom Cheshire, 'The Piano is Firewood: The Music of Tom Waits'

Posted By on Wed, Mar 20, 2013 at 10:54 AM

Multi-instrumentalist Jeffrey Bützer takes a break from his own eclectic career to participate - as drummer - in this live tribute to one of his more obvious influences, Tom Waits. Recorded at the Earl back on May 29, 2010, and just released via Bandcamp, the release features a seven-piece outfit fronted by singer Tom Cheshire (ex Rent Boys), who describes himself as an "American gutter poet, songwriter, and musician." Sax, percussion, and T.T. Mahoney's piano add layers to these Waits covers, exclusively culled from his Swordfishtrombones and later, more experimental years.

Cheshire doesn't have as guttural a voice as Waits, which makes these versions slightly less edgy and more ear-friendly than the gruffer originals. But ear-friendly is a relative term when describing Waits' music, especially when the band digs deep into his catalog to unearth "All the World is Green" from Blood Money and "Just the Right Bullets, " originally on The Black Rider, both of which are primarily known to Waits fanatics. The playing is ragged yet rehearsed, which suits the material just fine, and the musicians are clearly having a great time with these clangy, trashy tunes, especially when they unload on the bluesy "16 Shells From a 30.6." A closing romp through "I Don't Want to Grow Up" - perhaps the most popular track here, since it was famously covered by the Ramones, Hayes Carll, and others - even sounds like a hit in some alternate-reality universe.

There are few revelations here - the songs stick pretty closely to the arrangements on Waits' albums - but everyone is having such a blast on stage (the audience appears to be pretty spare that night) that the listener gets caught up in hearing music they may not already know even if they consider themselves Waits fans. The best part is that at only a dozen tracks, there's plenty more for Bützer, Cheshire, and this talented group to explore should they decide to continue this as an ongoing project, perhaps by tackling some of Waits' earlier material. And the price is right.

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