Tom Waits

Closing Time

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Tom Waits' debut album is a minor-key masterpiece filled with songs of late-night loneliness. Within the apparently narrow range of the cocktail bar pianistics and muttered vocals, Waits and producer Jerry Yester manage a surprisingly broad collection of styles, from the jazzy "Virginia Avenue" to the up-tempo funk of "Ice Cream Man" and from the acoustic guitar folkiness of "I Hope That I Don't Fall in Love With You" to the saloon song "Midnight Lullaby," which would have been a perfect addition to the repertoires of Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett. Waits' entire musical approach is stylized, of course, and at times derivative -- "Lonely" borrows a little too much from Randy Newman's "I Think It's Going to Rain Today" -- and his lovelorn lyrics can be sentimental without being penetrating. But he also has a gift for gently rolling pop melodies, and he can come up with striking, original scenarios, as on the best songs, "Ol' 55" and "Martha," which Yester discreetly augments with strings. Closing Time announces the arrival of a talented songwriter whose self-conscious melancholy can be surprisingly moving.

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