No relation to Tom (although she does perform a killer version of his "Get Behind the Mule"), Hope Waits wraps her deep, slinky, sultry voice around a dozen bluesy/jazzy tracks on this striking debut. Although her styling and singing hint at a combination of Joan Osborne and Maria Muldaur, Waits is no mere imitator. She shifts from torchy originals (the languid "Fortune Teller") to innovative singer/songwriter covers (the Waits song, Dylan's "Ring Them Bells") and gripping, stripped-down versions of standards (an eerie, somewhat menacing "Come Rain or Come Shine"). Most of the album's four originals are assisted or written by Peter Malick, who also produced and plays guitar. Her take on the Ray Charles chestnut "Drown in My Own Tears," accompanied by the horns that appear on a handful of selections, is a tour de force as she slows the song's tempo to a crawl and wrings every last drop of emotion out of the lyrics. Like the finest interpreters, Waits brings a fresh perspective to this material through her rearrangements. The opening cover of Jackie Wilson's "I'll Be Satisfied" keeps the soul while adding a dollop of jazz and bluesy swing. She digs into "Cigarettes and Coffee" with nearly as much intensity as Otis Redding, no easy task, and makes the standard her own. She's somewhat less successful on a shuffle blues reading of "Mother-in-Law Blues," best known through Bobby "Blue" Bland, even with an accordion added to twist the approach and add a touch of Louisiana R&B. There are obvious comparisons to Norah Jones' similar style (Malick has also worked with Jones), but Waits' technique is less easy listening, far more dark and edgy. Malick and Waits create a classic sound, very sparse but not quite stark, that highlights her gripping vocals. Atmospheric, intense, and often hypnotic, Waits' debut is a delight and a real find for those who walk down the more ominous side of the jazz/blues boulevard.
AllMusic Review by Hal Horowitz