Navigating Tom Waits
October 6, 2014 8:09 AM   Subscribe

I really like the way Tom Waits' voice works with spiritual-inspired music, like in Come on Up to the House. What other songs (either his or by any similarly gravel-voiced singers) should I listen to? His discography is so big and diverse that Pandora doesn't quite cut it.
posted by oinopaponton to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
* pulls up chair, sits down *

Got some Tom Waits recs for you.

Way Down In The Hole pretty much is a spiritual, and you may remember it from the opening credits to The Wire. They actually used the Neville Bros' cover for the first season, then his own for the second - and they kept doing different covers for various other seasons.

Anywhere I Lay My Head has a similar feel, but it's not "spiritual" as such in subject matter. Same too with Innocent When You Dream, and Train Song and You Can Never Hold Back Spring.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:23 AM on October 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Consider Spiritualized's Lord Let It Rain On Me.

(Disclaimer: the lyrics are decidedly not traditional/Christian spiritual, but I think it counts as spiritual-inspired.)
posted by juliplease at 8:30 AM on October 6, 2014

Performers with voices that remind me of Tom's: Big Mama Thornton (not often Spirituals), Etta James (not as gravelly), Blind Willie Johnson (not as powerful).
posted by IAmBroom at 8:33 AM on October 6, 2014

My favorite Waits album is Rain Dogs, but my favorite songs on there (Time, Walking Spanish) don't really fit your spiritual-inspired request. But it's got the Waits stories and characters. Waits and Elvis Costello. So incredible...
posted by cmm at 8:40 AM on October 6, 2014

Jesus Gonna Be Here and the slightly more irreverent
Chocolate Jesus
posted by Capn at 8:40 AM on October 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Mark Lanegan, for sure. Spiritual-inspired gravel-voiced songs are kind of his thing (see: Whiskey for the Holy Ghost).

A few of my favorites: The Winding Sheet, Pendulum, Lexington Slow Down.
posted by divined by radio at 8:44 AM on October 6, 2014

Best answer: Mississippi Records is a label that compiles a lot of rough-and-ready Gospel Music. The lead track from their Life is a Problem comp by Rev. Utah Smith might lead you deeper in the sort of direction you're describing.

Also, with a self-link disclaimer, a music site I'm involved with, Dusted, recently posted a discussion on gospel music resources, with one of our writers providing quite the list of albums, many of which are on Spotify, and many of which have the sort of feel that inspires Waits.
posted by bendybendy at 8:59 AM on October 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You might be interested in this collaboration between Tom Waits and the Blind Boys of Alabama, though honestly the whole thing is kind of overproduced and bland to my ear. The Blind Boys also did a (more successful IMHO) cover of Jesus Gonna Be Here that you'll probably like.

If you do like the contrast between smooth-voiced gospel harmony and a gritty lead, a good place to dig in would be older recordings by the Dixie Hummingbirds (that clip starts out sweet and smooth but picks up some grit as it goes) and more generally look for "hard gospel" quartets and quintets from the 40s and 50s.

Also, add Reverend Gary Davis to your list of gospel/blues shouters. He's mostly known as a guitar player — he was one of the masters of ragtime style guitar — but he always had a powerful voice and it went way gravelly towards the end of his career.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:00 AM on October 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Blind Willie Johnson
posted by hydrophonic at 9:09 AM on October 6, 2014

I really like Bone Machine and Heart of Saturday Night, and they're very different albums.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:19 AM on October 6, 2014

You might like Tom Wait's collaboration with Gavin Bryers - and with a tramp "Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet". The whole thing is about an hour long, recorded back in 1971 - and utterly like anything else I've heard. Link is to a 4 minute excerpt.

You might also like "Green Grass"
posted by rongorongo at 9:20 AM on October 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Mark Lanegan has a couple of gospel/trip hop records with the SoulSavers. Amazingness.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:25 AM on October 6, 2014

I can't get enough of Krishna Das singing My God is Real.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:37 AM on October 6, 2014

Nick Cave has been taking inspiration from gospel for a long time, particularly on the record No More Shall We Part.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:40 AM on October 6, 2014

I like to think of Arthur H as a sort of French Tom Waits: Naive Derviche.

King Britt's track "New World in my View" might appeal - it samples "Sister Gertrude Morgan" - who you could also check out.
posted by rongorongo at 9:46 AM on October 6, 2014

Van Morrison's cover of the slave spiritual 'Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child' gets progressively more gravelly as it goes along. Other singers' recordings of this song may be worth exploring too (I'm only familiar with Van's version).
posted by brushtailedphascogale at 10:03 AM on October 6, 2014

Other singers' recordings of this song may be worth exploring too
I like Odetta's
posted by rongorongo at 10:50 AM on October 6, 2014

Try his 'Down there by the Train'. Apparently it was written for Johnny Cash, and indeed there's a Cash version of the song too.
posted by mister_kaupungister at 2:06 PM on October 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Lord I've Been Changed
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 2:06 PM on October 6, 2014

His "Downtown Train," while not a spiritual, moves me to tears nearly every time I hear it; there's some kind of mystical urbanity to it or something. Shivers.
posted by mibo at 6:25 PM on October 6, 2014

Be Thou My Vision by Van Morrison.
posted by misozaki at 2:39 AM on October 7, 2014

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