Bluesy John Hammond and out-there Tom Waits might not seem the most likely pairing, but the two veterans have crossed paths previously. Waits contributed "No One Can Forgive Me but My Baby" for Hammond's "Got Love If You Want It," while Hammond appeared on Waits' Mule Variations. But their collaboration for "Wicked Grin" surpasses those brief encounters. Waits penned 12 of the 13 tracks (two are brand new, written for this project) and serves as producer. The result is both subversive and accessible.
Waits and Hammond keep things raw, which is exactly what tunes like "2:19" and "Big Black Mariah" demand. With their rolling drums, tangy guitar and gruff vocals, these songs are grit personified. They also groove like crazy. More understated tunes, such as "Clap Hands" and "Shore Leave," work equally well, as Hammond conjures a spooky vibe. Grin is both easy on the ears and good for the soul.