Various Artists

Step Right Up: The Songs of Tom Waits [1996]

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Fifteen-song tribute album to Waits, dominated by alternative rockers, although a couple of previously released items (Tim Buckley's 1973 cover of "Martha," and 10,000 Maniacs' 1992 cassette single B-side "I Hope That I Don't Fall in Love with You") were licensed for the project. It's above-average as tribute discs go, with a diverse lineup (Alex Chilton, Dave Alvin, Pale Saints, Frente!, Archers of Loaf, Pete Shelley, the Wedding Present) taking care to invest their contributions with some imagination. Some Tom Waits fans may find the interpretations too aggressive and arty, and on occasion the approaches are annoying (the Violent Femmes' smirking walk through "Step Right Up," Jeffrey Lee Pierce's white-boy rap on "Pasties and a G-String"). It deserves points for not just throwing together lukewarm variations on the originals, though, but trying to come up with something different, as Drugstore does on its Velvet Underground-like version of "Old Shoes." Other highlights are the Tindersticks' torpid loungeoid cover of "Mockin' Bird," and Magnapop's sultry reading of one of Waits' grimmest pieces, "Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis."

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