- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 11, 2002

TOM WAITS
Blood Money
Alice
(Anti Records)
At this stage in his career, Tom Waits is attuned to theater.
In the past 15 years, he has appeared in several films, scored one soundtrack and written two musicals with his wife-collaborator Kathleen Brennan. His two new albums are gothic ruminations on love and obsession; both are derived from plays. The convergence of drama and music has enhanced his already complex work, deepening its dimensions.
"Blood Money" is based on "Woyzeck," written by a German poet in 1838. The play was inspired by a true story about a soldier who is driven insane by army medical experiments and infidelity and murders his lover. Mr. Waits and Mrs. Brennan wrote songs for a prize-winning production that premiered in Copenhagen in 2000.
"Alice" was written for an avant-garde opera based loosely on Lewis Carroll's fixation with Alice Liddell, a fascination that sparked Carroll's famous literary work. The 15 songs reflect Carroll's sense of whimsy and surreal storytelling. Like "Blood," they pursue a dream logic through eclectic compositions.
"Poor Edward," for example, tells a tale of a man with a woman's face on the back of his head who is driven to suicide. However, the musical content is stilted and far less compelling. But "Table Top Joe," about a "man without a body" who becomes a piano maestro, bounces with tipsy verve.
Both albums contain potent verses like this one in "Alice": "But I must be insane/To go skating on your name/And by tracing it twice/I fell through the ice/Of Alice." Both make use of Mr. Waits' signature soundscapes, with odd instruments such as a pneumatic calliope, Mellotron and Chamberlain vibes.
As usual, Mr. Waits' vocal cords sound as if they're made of rusty barbed wire. He often uses his voice for strict effect rather than melody, emphasizing his gifts as a raconteur. In "Kommienezuspadt" he bellows like a demented carnival barker. The man can croon convincingly, but those gifts are more evident on "Blood Money."
It's a more cohesive, satisfying album, but it's also extremely dark. With titles such as "Misery Is the River of the World" and "Everything Goes to Hell," the songs often are grim. But optimism laces "All the World Is Green," which hints at a happily ever after, and "Coney Island Baby" carries the melancholy thread of romance.
"Blood Money" is bittersweet, but it's more balanced and ultimately more listenable. Bruce Hamilton

JAMES KEELAGHAN
Home
(Appleseed Recordings)
Most artists would be overjoyed to produce an album that sounds like Mr. Keelaghan's "Home."
Mr. Keelaghan is touring in support of this just-released record and will appear Wednesday at Baldwin's Station Pub in Sykesville, Md., and May 22 in Rockville at Vic's Music Corner in O'Brien's Pit Barbecue.
This Canadian singer has set high standards in songwriting he's a winner of one Canadian Juno, the equivalent of an American Grammy, for one recording and was nominated for three more.
But this "Home" is not where Mr. Keelaghan's heart is. He has the traditional sound his fans have come to expect, especially in "The Flower of Magherally," and in the opening song on the disc, David Francey's "Red-Winged Blackbird." The record has enough story songs to be a Keelaghan production Mr. Keelaghan wrote "Stonecutter" about rebuilding Canada's parliament, and "Sinatra and I" is the ballad of his travels with a blue-eyed, cast-off cat.
Yet there is something missing. "Home" has some of the essential elements, but in its focus on matters north of the border, it lacks the universal depth that Mr. Keelaghan gave us in his "Road" and "My Skies" discs. Jay Votel

ELIZA GILKYSON
Lost and Found
(Red House Records)
A depth of emotion and life's experience comes wailing through "Lost and Found." Filled with biblical imagery and poetic quirks, Miss Gilkyson's lyrics cut through the throbbing guitar accompaniment and lodge somewhere between the soul and the subconscious. "He'll Miss This Train" is haunting, and "Mama's Got a Boyfriend" and the opening track, "Welcome Back," are both irresistible, hooky songs.
Rich Brotherton, whose mandolin adds so much to the rich sound of Robert Earl Keen's band, and alt-country player Gurf Morlix make guest appearances on this recording.
With backing from Patty Griffin and brother Tony Gilkyson, guitarist of the band X, along with Texas singer-songwriter Slaid Cleaves and former BoDean keyboardist Michael Ramos, Miss Gilkyson gets down to basics folk-spun lyrics, rock-edged sound. J.V.


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