If Not Gravel, What About the Sand?

After four decades and 20 albums, Tom Waits, a 1968 graduate of Chula Vista's Hilltop High, is arguably the most substantial music figure to emerge from the San Diego area. Ever since the Eagles made a hit of Waits's "Ol' 55," Waits songs have been interpreted by Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, Rod Stewart, Johnny Cash, Tim Buckley, and scads of underground artists.

Chanteuses have given Waits's material a jazzy spin. This autumn, Madeleine Peyroux put her neo--Billie Holiday pipes to "(Looking for) The Heart of Saturday Night"; in October, Israeli diva Efrat Alony unveiled "Take It with Me" on her latest; and, on November 14, Texan country-folk-pop singer Nanci Griffith offers three Tom tracks on her new record.

A real bombshell in recent Waits-covers news dropped last month with the announcement that Esquire magazine's "Sexiest Woman Alive" -- Scarlett Johansson -- will record an album of his compositions. Scarlett Sings Tom Waits is set for release in 2007. Blogosphere and press-outlet reaction was immediate.

Kristyn from CelebrityWeasel.com denounced the project as "bastardizing the beloved discography of Tom Waits."

Canadian blog Optimuscrime.com noted, "At least with Tom Waits, she's picking brilliant songs that we're used to hearing sung by a man with a kilo of coarse-ground gravel in his throat. Joe Cocker could cover Tom Waits and it'd sound delicate."

On November 21, Waits releases Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards, a three-CD, 56-track affair with 30 new recordings; Waits does some covers himself, including Weill-Brecht, Daniel Johnston, Charles Bukowski, and the Ramones (who once covered him).

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