Everybody loves Tom Waits. Okay, that may be a bit of an exaggeration. But a hell of a lot of musicians admire his work. There are far too many acts to list that have taken a stab at a single Waits song at one time or anothereverybody from Diana Krall
to The Ramonesand artists as dissimilar as Southside Johnny and Holly Cole
have given over entire albums to his work. Covering Waits is so fashionable, in fact, that it's almost de rigueur for singer-interpreters to go there. But it's not quite the same for instrumentalists. You just don't encounter many wordless winks towards Waits, and that's what makes Aaron Shragge
's work so special.
Shragge's Innocent When You Dream is an outfit dedicated to tapping into the high-proof lyricism and fever dream foundations that make Waits' music so dark and inviting. With his dragon mouth trumpet and shakuhachi at the fore, Shragge resurfaces Waits' barroom tales and nocturnal narratives to come up with something that rings true to both honoree and honorer. That's as obvious here as it was on the group's first go-roundInnocent When You Dream: Celebrating The Music Of Tom Waits
(Jazz Collective Records, 2010).
While the instrumentation essentially remains the same here as on the band's debut, the personnel, save for Shragge, is completely different. Regardless, the group aesthetic established from the outset is completely intact. Shragge and company get
Waits, from the highest of his high happenings to the rock-bottom reservoirs of his soul. In these eleven tracks, the full Tom Waits spectrumfrom drunken solitude to poetic salvationis covered. It's pure late night nostalgia in all shapes, sizes, and colors.
Shragge gives us a plainspoken "hello" complete with false endings ("Chicago"), a tearful goodbye that's as moving as it is true ("You Can Never Hold Back Spring"), and a world of wonders in between the two. His trumpet conjures the swaying bard's image ("All The World Is Green," "Temptation") and his shakuhachi carries across the air as a spectral chronicler of times gone by ("Dirt In The Ground," "The Briar And The Rose"). His band, not to be left behind, follows him down every path, be it one that leads into a bluesy backroom, a countrified lament, or an otherworldly setting. Standouts from the group include tenor saxophonist Jonathan Lindhorst
, who lines up perfectly with Shragge's musical orientation, and pedal steel pro Joe Grassi
, who paints the requisite hazy aura and gin-soaked atmosphere around eight of these tracks.
Shragge does Waits right here, whether bending pitches, rules, or expectations. It took a while for him to circle back around to this project, but it was well worth the wait.
Chicago; All The World Is Green; Dirt In The Ground; Down In The Whole; Ol' 55; Hang On St. Christopher; The Briar And The Rose; Temptation; In The Neighborhood; Anywhere I Lay My Head; You Can Never Hold Back Spring.
Aaron Shragge: dragon mouth trumpet, shakuhachi; Jonathan Lindhorst: tenor saxophone; Ryan Butler: guitar; Nico Dann: drums; Dan Fortin: bass; Joe Grass: pedal steel (3, 5-11).