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Tom Waits – Bone Machine – Classic Pick on The Homestretch

September 28, 2015


Released September 8, 1992 – 23 years ago

Waits 10th studio release marks a transition from his earlier, somewhat traditional blues-infused debauched lounge singer persona into the gloom & doom champion of unorthodox, surreal industrial folk. Featuring stripped down arrangements, non-traditional instrumentation, and Waits ominous, dirgeful growl, this is one of his most powerful recordings, albeit not his most accessible.

The Classic Pick is a weekly feature at 4pm M-F on The Home Stretch, sponsored by the Good Oak Bar. Each Monday at 4pm Kris Kerry stops by KXCI to give us insight on this classic album.

Key Point:

Considered one of the artist’s most important and moving albums, it effectively marks the shift from Waits’ earlier more traditional works influenced by pre-rock styles (i.e., blues, jazz, vaudeville, lounge), to a more stripped-down, experimental and non-traditional sound that has been referred to as industrial folk.

Other Interesting Info:

Often noted for its dark lyrical themes of death and murder along with unusual percussion, Bone Machine is one of Tom Waits’ most critically acclaimed albums. It was the first studio album in five years, following the release of Frank’s Wild Years in 1987. In addition to many positive reviews on its release, it has been named the 49th best album from the 1990s by Pitchfork Media and ranked 53rd best 90s release by Rolling Stone.

Bone Machine won a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album. This was the first of two Grammy’s awarded to Waits. He won his second Grammy in 1999 for Mule Variations.

Bone Machine was recorded and produced entirely at the Prairie Sun Recording studios in Cotati, CA. Prairie Sun is a professional studio that has worked with numerous well known artists, including Neko Case, John Hammond Jr., Van Morrison, Primus and Nine Inch Nails among others, however Waits chose to record this record in a room in the building’s cellar which was simply four concrete walls housing the buildings hot water heater. He chose this site for its “echo.”

Tom Waits’ is solely credited as Producer. He is essentially responsible for all of its overall sound – which was quite different at the time (and still is).

The album’s cover art, a blurred black-and-white photo of Waits in a leather skullcap w/ horns and aviator goggles, was taken by Jesse Dylan, son of Bob Dylan.

Les Claypool of Primus plays stand up bass on “Earth Died Screaming.” Also, Rolling Stone’s Keith Richards plays guitar and sings on “That Feel.”

Waits’ distinctive voice has been described by music critic Daniel Durchholz as sounding like “it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car.”

A number of songs from Bone Machine have been covered by several other well-known artists, including: The Blind Boys of Alabama, Queens of the Stone Age, Widespread Panic, and Gov’t Mule. Also, Waits’ cover albums by blues artist John Hammond Jr. and jazz singer Holly Cole have include songs from Bone Machine.

Waits has worked a considerable amount in Hollywood. He has worked as a composer for several movies, and has acted in supporting roles in Pardise Alley and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Renfield). He also starred in Jim Jarmusche’s 1986 Down by Law.

Several songs from Bone Machine have been featured in a number of film soundtracks, including “Earth Died Screaming” in Twelve Monkeys and “Goin’ Out West” in Fight Club.

Waits was nominated for an Academy Award for his soundtrack work on One From The Heart.

Waits made Rolling Stone’s 2010 list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time and 2015 list of the 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time. In 2011, Waits was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.


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