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There have been few artist to become as wildly popular in music with a sound as raw and gritty as Tom Waits. With his vagabond demeanor and often outrageous sounds, Waits has experimented with genre so frequently that it’s hard to pin down a classification.
As much a poet as a musician, Waits weaves vivid imagery through clever metaphor. Where one man sees a willow, Waits sees a “skinny bone tree.” Where one might smoke a cigarette by themselves, Tom “smokes his friends to the filter.”
Never afraid to toe the line between pop and eclecticism, Waits has written many songs with Christian elements. Today we’d like to share with you a few of our favorites:
Take Care of All My Children
Bright and early Sunday morning with my walking cane
I’m going up to see my Lord
With an accompaniment of horns and snare you can imagine Waits leading a crowd of musicians in New Orleans up the street for church. In hymn format with a triumphant rhythm, this would actually be wonderful to hear during a Sunday procession.
Way Down in the Hole
He got the fire and the fury at his command.
With a slick bass line and a chorus of horns sounding like cars beeping as they speed by, Waits paints the picture of bustling city life. He warns against the temptation to feed your inner demons, cautioning us to keep that devil down in the hole.
I’ve Been Changed
Angels in Heaven done signed my name.
The tremolo of the guitar gives a constant feeling of being off-centered — almost as if rising on shaky legs after a serious spiritual revelation. He performs this track, a popular gospel hymn, with his whole body.
Come Up to the House
Come down off the cross, we can use the wood
A much more literal call to church than “Take Care of All My Children,” this hymn is accented by a wild harmonica solo. Take out the drums and add a chorus of voices on every “Come on up to the house,” and this would fit perfectly into a service.
Jesus Gonna Be Here
Well I’m just gonna wait here
I don’t have to shout
Waits’ take on this old spiritual is minimalist, and a bit repetitive which certainly fits a song originally sung during slave labor. He employs a slur throughout the entire song, giving the impression that he may have had a drink or two.
Down There by the Train
Where the sinner can be washed in the blood of the lamb
Accompanied by a lone piano, Waits paints the picture of a sleepy town built around a train.