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Tom Waits' 130 Seconds of Rock Bliss

"Lie To Me," the opening track on a three-disc mother lode of rarities Tom Waits calls Orphans, is two minutes and 10 seconds of pure, unfiltered rock 'n' roll bliss. It's not an ironic comment on rock hooliganism, or some sort of elliptical Waitsian postdoctoral thesis on the music's history, but a handclapped backbeat twitching like it did in Memphis. And a guitar melody running cool and steady like the 8:40 local into town. And vocals, bathed in old-school reverb, that lift Waits out of the gutter long enough for him to channel the ghost of some long-dead early rock idol. Or a composite of ten of them.

Waits is a child of rock, of course. On his records he's been cagey about it, employing discreet rockisms behind his carefully desiccated and determinedly pre-rock voice. Here, though, as he begs his baby to keep feeding his head with lies, he sounds like he's living out the teen fantasies proffered by Elvis Presley and the Everly Brothers. He's wild, she's wild, the band's crazy gone — we all want to be lied to like this.

"Lie To Me" isn't the single best song on this overstuffed set, but it's one of the most disarming ones, with a roar that can knock listeners sideways. That makes it a perfect tone-setter for the immense, thematically arranged outpouring that follows. By starting in this way, Waits signals that maybe we don't know him as well as we thought — and suggests, in the most gracious way imaginable, that we ought to check all assumptions about him at the door.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

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Tom Moon has been writing about pop, rock, jazz, blues, hip-hop and the music of the world since 1983.