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Mercy and Grand - The Music of Tom Waits & Kathleen Brennan

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Mercy and Grand - The Music of Tom Waits & Kathleen Brennan
Mercy and Grand - The Music of Tom Waits & Kathleen Brennan


The music of Tom Waits in new versions authenticated by Tom himself: "I'm honored to have an artist of Gavin Bryars' stature dress these songs up and take them out to an elegant night on the town." - Tom Waits.

'Mercy and Grand' celebrates the music of Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan, and at the same time it expresses something of the great American and European songwriting traditions from which they spring. The project involved setting some 13 songs by Tom and Kathleen alongside other composers: two pieces by Kurt Weill, some folk music, a John Tams fairground ballad, a tango and a gypsy waltz, performed by a unique seven-piece band with singer Jess Walker.

It is put together by Opera North Projects in arrangements by Gavin Bryars, Jim Holmes and Joe Townsend. Bryars says: "It is not a pastiche of Tom's own band nor does it replicate Tom's inimitable performing style. Our singer, Jess Walker, is classically trained, female and English, and this can help to draw a different kind of attention to the words and the music, especially for those more used to Tom's unique qualities as performer."

"In the song 'Whistle Down The Wind' the words 'Mercy and Grand' refer to a place, a corner where two roads meet on the edge of a town. We too have tried to find meeting places: between musicians and between song-writing traditions, making intuitive connections across a range of styles and musical genres. We focused on particular themes - memory, loss, journeys, the circus - and although there is no specific narrative in the sequence of songs, there is a sense in which the music does take us on a kind of journey."

Tom Waits and Gavin Bryars famously first worked together in 1993 on the hypnotic full-length recorded version of Bryars' Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet.

Personnel: Jess Walker (voice), Joe Townsend (violin, trumpet-violin), Dai Pritchard (tenor sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute), Karen Street (accordion), James Woodrow (electric guitar), Jim Holmes (piano, harmonium, harmonica), Gavin Bryars (double-bass, harmonium), Simon Allen (percussion, including musical saw, waterphone)


  1. Name
  2. Traditional: Gypsy Tango
  3. Waits/Brennan: A Little Drop of Poison
  4. Kurt Weill (Text: Brecht): Ballad of Sexual Dependency
  5. Waits/Brennan: Poor Edward
  6. Waits/Brennan: Alice
  7. Waits/Brennan: Whistle Down the Wind
  8. Waits/Brennan: A Little Rain
  9. Waits/Brennan: Innocent When You Dream
  10. Waits/Brennan: Johnsburg Illinois
  11. Traditional: La Partida
  12. Kurt Weill (Text: Brecht): What Keeps Mankind Alive?
  13. Waits/Brennan: Pony
  14. Waits/Brennan: Georgia Lee
  15. Waits/Brennan: Broken Bicycles
  16. Waits/Brennan: Train Song
  17. John Tams: Pull Down Lads
  18. Traditional: Barbara Allen
  19. Waits/Brennan: The Briar and the Rose
  20. Waits/Brennan: Lullaby
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