Pictured on the sleeve in daguerreotype sepia surrounded by the ghosts of America's alternative cultural history, Waits has now firmly sealed his place as one of the USA's major storytellers. Orphans, containing rarities, reworkings and new material, beautifully demonstrates how he uses just about every native musical form of expression to achieve this high standing. These aren't offcuts, but prime Tom.
This box set is handily split into three themed parts: Brawlers being composed of mutant rockabilly jive suffused with the spirit of the Mississippi delta, Gene Vincent and all points in between; Bawlers is the softer side of Tom's muse, containing ballads and laments; meanwhile Bastards is the most intriguing set, filled with Brechtian cabaret, strange tales, jokes and the most disturbing version of "Heigh Ho" (from Hal Willner's Disney project, Stay Awake) that you'll ever hear.
Shot through with the grime of gutter life and the fairy dust of magical, violent realism, Waits and wife Kathleen Brennan's 'strange couplings' (as he puts it) seem sometimes madly anachronistic yet utterly relevant. This set even contains what could be termed as Tom's first 'protest song' in "The Road To Peace". So, something for every type of Tom Waits fan and easily up there with his best work. Essential.