Pop & Rock 2011: 30 Best Albums
When Tom Waits was in his 20s, he was straining to be the artist he is now in his 60s. Although it's been seven years between albums of original material, the glorious gumbo of blues and balladry that is Bad As Me sounds as effortless as anything Waits has ever done. While some may not describe it as the most challenging work in his catalogue, Waits certainly has nothing left to prove after redefining himself so convincingly so many times over the past 40 years. Yet Bad As Me is far from derivative. It's only the legions of Waits imitators who have never been able to replicate the graveyard rockabilly of tracks like "Raised Right Men," and "Get Lost" that he's been perfecting since the early '80s. The amount of notable guests on the album is in some ways a tribute to Waits' persistence with that approach, and it's especially significant that Keith Richards contributes more than he has on any previous Waits album on which he's appeared. They sound like soul mates on both the rockers ("Chicago") and the album's designated weeper ("Last Leaf") to the point where it seems as though Keef wouldn't hesitate to become Waits' full-time henchman if only he could somehow divorce himself from Sir Mick. What he must surely recognize is that Waits at this moment is the embodiment of American music's renegade spirit, and Bad As Me puts all of those elements on full display.
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