Go Ask Alice

With two new releases, Tom Waits travels ever farther down the rabbit hole of his imagination -- and our American past

Blood Money takes its inspiration from Woyzeck, an 1836 drama by German playwright Georg Büchner that received the Danish version of the Tony Award for Best Musical when Robert Wilson directed it in 2000. In the play, a poor soldier is abused by humanity and cuckolded by his love, eventually murdering his girlfriend before heading off to kill himself. The material is decidedly dark, and Waits makes sure to capture every grisly twist and turn. But while Blood Money's gloomy pall serves Büchner's material well, the monochromatic mood just can't compare to Alice, with its vivid exhumation of a 150-year-old fairy tale and the tangled biographies it contains.

Both CDs, though, will likely have listeners heaping roses at Waits' feet -- and rightly so. Between Aliceand Blood Money, the songwriter is at the top of his game in a field he invented. With a 25-year career full of discovery and unflagging inspiration, the singer's future -- and therefore our past -- has never looked brighter.

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