Ultimately, it's the voice I can't get past - OK, that and the strategically placed porkpie hat. Don't misunderstand me: I've always gravitated toward singers and songwriters who place a premium on unique personality and individual style rather than bland proficiency or scholarly technique. But Waits's cartoonishly craggy croak - whose range is about as wide as a crocodile's skin is soft, and textured roughly the same - sounds like a bad Howlin' Wolf impersonation at its best, and borders uncomfortably on minstrelsy at its worst. He's a white dude from California, for crying out loud. And with tons of albums, film soundtracks, and Hollywood acting credits on his resume, Waits's carefully cultivated boho hobo persona doesn't wash either. Really now, how down and out can this self-consciously bedraggled Bowery bum be?
-- Jonathan Perry