The compilation Come On Up to the House: Women Sing Waits was already in motion when Warren Zanes got the call to helm the project — whose Angie McMahon version of Tom Waits‘ “Take It With Me” is premiering exclusively below on Billboard. Rest assured, Zanes didn’t spend much time pondering his answer.
“Being a lifelong Waits fan, and interested in what it means to apply the female voice in particular to this catalog, I was on board right away,” Zanes tells Billboard. “I’ve approached music from multiple angles, on many levels, but this is something I hadn’t done before. I knew I was going to come out the other side having learned something, and that appeals to me.”
Come On Up to the House, due Nov. 22 on Dualtone Records in advance of Waits’ 70th birthday on Dec. 7, features 12 of the iconoclastic singer/songwriter’s tracks done by performers such as Rosanne Cash, Patty Griffin, Iris Dement, Aimee Mann, sisters Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer and others, in addition to McMahon. Zanes considers Waits “a big writer on the level of the Rodgers & Hammersteins of the world,” and while artists such as Rod Stewart, Bruce Springsteen and The Ramones have famously taken on his songs, he feels that female singers amplify a certain character of Waits’ music that the men don’t always connect to.
“With the Tom Waits catalog we listen differently when our guides are all female — that is what I think brings the project to life the most,” explains Zanes, a co-founder of the Del Fuegos who also teaches at New York University and wrote the authorized 2015 Tom Petty book Petty: The Biography. He’s also executive director of Steven Van Zandt’s Rock and Roll Forever Foundation. “I feel like the female voice brings out the emotions in a different way.”
Talking about “Take It With Me,” meanwhile, the Australian-born McMahon — who co-produced the track with Alex O’Gorman — says, “I remember driving through the hills somewhere when I first heard this song. Someone played it for me and said, ‘You just have to hear the final verse. It’s the best verse ever written.’ I think I agree. It was actually terrifying to cover this because I love the original version so much. It’s an incredibly beautiful recording. I just wanted to put my spin on my favorite Waits song so I could be part of this record too.”
Zanes says the Come On Up to the House roster was assembled by “beating the bushes” for artists, but most were enthusiastic to take part. Notable exceptions were Regina Spektor and Chrissie Hynde, who were both approached but did not feel they could credibly deliver the songs they were offered. “There’s a really wide feeling among the musicians that we all love this guy,” Zanes notes. “There was a great energy to this project as a whole.” Waits has reciprocated that affection too, sharing Griffin’s version of “Ruby’s Arms” via social media, even though he was not directly approached about the album as it was being created.
“A tribute is a tip of the hat to someone special and something you do regardless of whether you get their blessing or not,” Zanes says. “It was really meaningful that he gave us the nod he did, and so cool and nice of him to acknowledge us in that public of way. Although from another angle, I got 12 fantastic acts, all with women, singing his songs. How could he not like it? The spirit is all quite positive.”
The full track list for Come On Up to the House includes:
“Come On Up To The House” – Joseph
“Hold On” – Aimee Mann
“Georgia Lee” – Phoebe Bridgers
“Ol’ 55” – Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer
“Take It With Me” – Angie McMahon
“Jersey Girl” – Corinne Bailey Rae
“Ruby’s Arms” – Patty Griffin
“Time” – Rosanne Cash
“You Can Never Hold Back Spring” – Kat Edmonson
“House Where Nobody Lives” – Iris Dement
“Downtown Train” – Courtney Marie Andrews
“Tom Traubert’s Blues” – The Wild Reeds
Listen to “Take It With Me” below.