Tom Waits's Orphans: moving, rocking 3-disc set

I got a preview copy of the new Tom Waits 3-disc set, "Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards" about a month ago, and I've been listening to it nonstop ever since. The disc is set to be released in a week or so and it's time I told you just how totally amazingly awesome it is.

I am a stupendous Tom Waits fan. Whether he's being an experimental noise-rock loony, a bluesy raconteur, a folk-artist, a madcap orchestra director or a rock and roller, I love him. No musician makes me happier in more ways than Tom Waits, whose versatility, poetry, and self-reflexive humor make him the greatest American musician of his generation.

Orphans is a three disc set of rarities and never-released material, including some obscure personal favorites like his cover of Heigh-Ho from Snow White (originally released on the great Disney tribute album Stay Awake) and a grinding tribute to On the Road, recorded with Primus, and a track recorded with the Ramones.

Each disc is thematically separated — Brawlers is rowdy and angry, Bawlers is full of ballads and sad longs, and Bastards is, well, Bastards — unclassifiable, Tom Waitsian random goodness.

This is a songwriter's album — the lyrics are so heartfelt and evocative, even the nakedly political tracks. I never thought I'd hear Tom Waits record a song about the Israel-Palestine conflict — nor that I'd like it as much as I do. Tom Waits is like Bukowski set to music, but funnier and weirder.

This is a set that begs to be ripped and mixed into your own playlists. While the discs are thematic, I've found that I get better results by putting them together in my own order according to the mood of the songs, or the tempo, or how wordy they are. I've sliced and diced this set a hundred ways and it keeps on getting better.

If you've never heard Tom Waits, this is a great place to start — he's one of those rare artists who actually translates great into eclectic "Best Of" albums. If you're a stone Waits fan, this set is a don't-miss-it, once-in-a-lifetime event.