07 December, 2010

Advent Calendar in Song: Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis

Tom Waits vs Magnapop vs Neko Case

Tom Waits
It's another unevenly matched battle today. Can anybody top Tom Waits? Probably not. From his 1978 album, Blue Valentine, which opens with the seemingly unlikely but stunningly brilliant cover of Somewhere from West Side Story; hearing him intone in his gravel gargling voice, "There's a place for Uzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...." can alter many of your preconceptions about the relationship between a singer and a song, the result being beautiful despite the alarm bells that sound in your head. This track is a typical early Tom, a prose poem Rex Harrisoned over an ambling bluesy piano melody, a typical down and out from his bowery to diner landscape, the gritty lies down with the sentimental.

I quite liked this version when I first heard it, of course having a female vocal does match the gender of the in song narrator, but it hasn't had the staying power of other covers. I can't find a link to it anywhere. I have it off of the 1995 tribute album Step Right Up: The Songs of Tom Waits, a patchy collection which is worth having on the merits of its last two tracks alone: Ruby's Arms by Frente! and I Hope That I Don't Fall in Love with You by 10,000 Maniacs both tender and beautiful. The title track gets an interesting airing by Violent Femmes.

As one if its lyrics mentions Christmas time, here's Ruby's Arms covered by Frente!

Neko Case
This is probably why the Magnapop cover now seems so unremarkable. Neko Case owns this track so well here. She has a souful twang that seems to prove some kind of unified field theorem between country, gospel and r n b. This lends our hooker heroine some moxie. It's almost as if her voice is that radio trying to ethereally tune in Little Anthony and the Imperials.

Winner: Tom Waits of course, although I love the Neko. It's his birthday. The spooky thing is that when I laid out my list for this Advent Calendar in Song, this entry landed randomly on this date. What are the chances of that? (I'd start with 1/28, but I'm sure it's more complicated than that, something like 28 factorial over 365 factorial multiplied by something else. My math friends should supply me with an accurate calculation -- show your work people.)

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