REVIEW: Come On Up To The House: Women Sing Waits is Reverent Adherence to Master Craft


With Warren Zanes (Del Fuegos, author, kids’ music aficionado) producing and an impressive cast of female musicians including Phoebe Bridgers, Aimee Man, Allison Moorer, Shelby Lynne, Patty Griffin, Rosanne Cash, Angie McMahon, Iris Dement, and Courtney Marie Andrews among others, Come On Up To The House: Women Sing Waits (Dualtone) forgoes unique arrangements for reverent adherence to a “songwriter’s songwriter’s” master-craft teasing out the beauty beneath the grit often hidden from the casual listener.

Born in Pomona, California in 1949, Tom Waits occupies an unusual place in the American zeitgeist as a man of his time and place with one foot decidedly in the past but an eye toward our apocalyptic future as well. His songs occupy a similarly unique space in the American canon. Often obscured by Waits’ signature growl, theatrical arrangement, or junkyard noise choir, Waits’ songs creep into the depths of the soul and speak to the anguish that fights joy for a home there. Waits’ world is often bittersweet: beauty and pain, hope and hurt, flesh and spirit. Come On Up To The House: Women Sing Waits offers the uninitiated an opportunity to peek at the magic behind the curtain and gauze upon the wizard Waits’ poetry laid bare.

In a recording career spanning 1973 to the present from Closing Time (1973) to Bad As Me (2011), Waits has seventeen official releases; there is plenty of source material choose from here. On Come On Up To The House: Women Sing Waits, performers embrace the products of Waits’ more traditional song-craft forgoing flurry for sincerity and bombast for simplicity. Although chosen mainly from his later work, the songs on Come On Up To The House reflect Waits’ earlier recordings, pre-Swordfishtrombone – the drunken sympathetic balladeer behind the piano reminding you that from the dark comes light; the hope in Waits’ despair takes center stage. Highlights include Patty Griffiths’ warbling take on “Ruby’s Arms,” Iris Dement’s folk starkness on “House Where Nobody Lives,” Courtney Marie Andrews’ brooding horn inflected “Downtown Train,” and Phoebe Bridgers’ hollow and haunting “Georgia Lee.” Sisters Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer reach all the way back to Waits’ 1973 debut, Closing Time, for a take on “Ol’55,” while Rosanne Cash turns in a particularly affecting “Time” that rides on an acoustic guitar, simple bass, a hint of piano, and her voice – nothing else is necessary for her to get to the core of the song. “Are those dreams or are those prayers,” she sings; it’s a sentiment that questions Waits’ entire catalogue. Dreams, prayers, or little packages of magic? Pick up a copy of Come On Up To The House: Women Sing Waits and decide for yourself.



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