Tom Waits Blood Money

Two new albums of songs commissioned for Robert Wilson plays, but neither one approaches the wacked-out madness of The Black Rider, the initial Waits/Wilson collaboration. Instead, either one of these albums could be perceived as a new collection of independent songs, although Alice dates back to 1992. There are subtle differences between them, although both use the same cast of players and engineers. The melancholic Alice finds Waits in more of a Swordfishtrombones balladeer mode, with judicious use of elegant violins and cellos that in no way approaches his syrupy use of strings in the late ’70s. Blood Money revives Bone Machine’s unabashedly bleak lyrical imagery. Musically, its rumba rhythms and honking saxophones resemble 1985’s texturally rich Rain Dogs, at times a little too close for comfort, but if he’s going to repeat himself, his finest album is the one to revisit. After all, 1999’s blues-based comeback Mule Variations was a bit paint-by-numbers. Both Alice and Blood Money find Waits writing lyrically and musically vivid set pieces that easily place them both among his best and most rewarding work. And as if the music wasn’t a gift enough, the beautiful packaging seals the deal. (Anti)