Tanya Donelly and I Sing Tom Waits

Listen to this. Here is one of my favorite singers — one of my favorite people — singing one of my favorite songs. Tanya Donelly sings Tom Waits.

Here you have an offering from one of America’s all-time great songwriters from one of his many artistic peaks, the 1999 Mule Variations LP. I am a huge Waits fan. Stones, Dylan, Beatles, Waits, Van Morrison, in no particular order. I like all Tom’s stuff: old; new; loud and skronky; tender and sentimental. But I am a sucker for the ballads. No one writes a ballad so effortlessly. No one writing today mixes the specific and universal; the dreamy and the concrete; the familiar and the new, as seamlessly as Waits.

His lyric is in the hands of an exceptional artist in this interpretation. Tanya inhabits this song, changing the point of view from a male narrator to a female with no fanfare. And this band (of which I was lucky to be a part) gives Tanya plenty of space in the arrangement. We cut it all live in the same room. You first hear Phil Aiken‘s deft right hand on piano, then we all spill in — Mike Piehl on just the right amount of atmospheric drums; Ed Valauskas slipping into the pocket with painstakingly a perfect bass line; and Tom Polceand I on acoustic guitars. As the song builds into the chorus, Tanya’s voice soars over us all, as Lyle Brewer joins in with a low-Nashville twang worthy of Duane Eddy, along with a barely-there breathy sax from Paul Ahlstrand.

And I get to sing harmony with Tanya, whom I have known for 20-something years. A song about family with people who are almost family. All for a great cause, TargetCancer. You should feel all warm and fuzzy. I know I do, for chrissakes.

In a land there’s a town,
and in that town there’s a house
And in that house there’s a woman
And in that woman there’s a heart I love
I’m gonna take it with me when I

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