St. Vincent- Big Black Mariah (Tom Waits cover)
I don’t think I can say enough good about this Waits cover. Waits covers are tricky things- they can almost never achieve the mastery of the originals, and the only ones that do (or come close) are the ones that are taken in whole and re-shaped by the cover artists. Johnny Cash’s Down There By The Train stands out as especially brilliant, as does Cat Power’s Yesterday is Here. There are even inspired, if imperfect, covers out there, like Springsteen’s Jersey Girl and the Scarlett Johannsen/Dave Sitek Anywhere I Lay My Head— I know I’m one of the few who actually enjoyed Johannsen’s debut album, and I’m content with that.
The pitfalls of a Waits cover is in adhering too close to the original arrangement and feel— you’re never going to beat Waits at his own balladry. Particularly inglorious train wrecks have included the Rod Stewart Downtown Train and the 10,000 Maniacs I Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love with You. At their best, they’re banal, and at their worst… well, it’s Rod Stewart.
This cover, though, is something else. It’s sufficiently different from the album version, I guess. But the presence and attitude on stage is very much Waits, maybe closer to live version on Big Time. The stomping, the growling, the emotional outpouring: it’s as much a Waits performance as I can imagine. I’m blown away by it. Annie Clark is as devilishly badass as Waits here, and I love it. If she follows this with a raconteur-ish warbling piano ballad, I would seriously investigate the possibility of metempsychosis.