The Crushing Piano Ballads of Tom Waits

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Tom Waits has not only one of the most distinct voices of all folk-rock crooners, he also has one of the most nuanced and studied approaches to narrative and musical accompaniment of any modern songwriter. His gravelly, whiskey-soaked voice, one whose every forlorn syllable bears witness to a lifetime of tragic loss, conjures somber and lamenting narratives almost effortlessly and constructs unmistakably American stories with vivid language and crushing pathos. The content he takes up, which ranges from hobo adagios and flower funerals to tearful reflections on missed opportunities, moves even the most stoic of listeners. His relatable melodies and his jazz- and blues-flavored progressions and cadences meld into a strange and unmatched sound—one of a singular, time-worn voice gliding sympathetically above 88 melancholy black and white keys, ever-searching for the heart of Saturday night.