By James Calemine

Bad As Me, the 22nd studio release by Tom Waits earned the highest chart appearance–#6 on Billboard’s Top 200–in his amazing career. Bad As Me contains 13 close-to-the-bone songs from his first studio album in seven years.

The musical cast on this collection includes Keith Richards, Charlie Musselwhite, Marc Ribot, Clint Maedgen, Casey Waits, Augie Meyers, David Hidalgo, Patrick Warren, Les Claypool, Flea, Dawn Harms, Larry Taylor and Ben Jaffe. All compositions were penned by Waits and his wife Kathleen Brennan…

The adrenaline-laced “Chicago” opens the disc with an apocalyptic blues-based number that sounds like the ‘Black Diamond Express’ screaming down hell-bound tracks. “Raised Right Men” emits a mausoleum rock & roll spook. “Talking At The Same Time”, a subterranean jazz tune, competes as one of the album’s finest tracks.

On “Get Lost” Waits captures a psychedelic rockabilly sound that transcends time. “Face To The Highway” emerges with sonic photographs meant to be heard as a driving song in some remote landscape. “Pay Me”, a quiet ballad, tells a story of a traveler that “gave it all up for the stage”.

Los Lobos multi-instrumentalist David Hidalgo shines on “Back In The Crowd”. The song almost sounds as if it were recorded in some desert cantina surrounded only by a few old trucks, scattered cactus and far away skylines. The title track demonstrates serious chutzpah from the unrestrained voice of Tom Waits where he sings:

You’re the head on the spear
You’re the nail on the cross
You’re the fly in my beer
You’re the key that got lost
You’re the letter from Jesus on the bathroom wall
You’re mother superior in only a bra
You’re the same kind of bad as me
I’m the hat on the bed
I’m the coffee instead
The fish or cut bait
I’m the detective up late
I’m the blood on the floor
The thunder and the roar
The boat that won’t sink
I just won’t sleep a wink
You’re the same kind of bad as me

“Kiss Me” resembles the smoky piano bar days in the 70s when Waits recorded Nighthawks At The DinerThe Heart of A Saturday Night and Small Change. “Satisfied” contains a Rolling Stones grit. “Last Leaf”, a country-jazz gem, features a Waits/Richards duet, and when they harmonize “I’m the last leaf on the tree” glory descends.

“Hell Broke Luce” marches forward as a ruthless 21st century war song where Waits snarls “That big fucking bomb made me dance.” The closer, “New Years Eve”, fades into the future as a sweet ballad leaving behind brutal facts of the past. Bad As Me finds Tom Waits still operating as one of the world’s finest songwriters.