Mercy and Grand

GB Records: BCGBCD18

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Mercy and Grand


GB Records

Catalogue No:




Release date:

23rd April 2012





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Mercy and Grand

The Music of Tom Waits & Kathleen Brennan

1. Traditional: Gypsy Tango

2. Waits/Brennan: A Little Drop of Poison

3. Kurt Weill (text: Brecht): Ballad of Sexual Dependency

4. Waits/Brennan: Poor Edward

5. Waits/Brennan: Alice

6. Waits/Brennan: Whistle Down the Wind

7. Waits/Brennan: A Little Rain

8. Waits/Brennan: Innocent When You Dream

9. Waits/Brennan: Johnsburg Illinois

10. Traditional: La Partida

11. Kurt Weill (text: Brecht): What Keeps Mankind Alive?

12. Waits/Brennan: Pony

13. Waits/Brennan: Georgia Lee

14. Waits/Brennan: Broken Bicycles

15. Waits/Brennan: Train Song

16. John Tams: Pull Down Lads

17. Traditional: Barbara Allen

18. Waits/Brennan: The Briar and the Rose

19. Waits/Brennan: Lullaby

Jess Walker (mezzo-soprano), 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)


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Conceived by Opera North Projects, Mercy and Grand celebrates the music of Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan, and other composers, in arrangements by Gavin Bryars, James Holmes (former Head of Music at Opera North) and violinist Joe Townsend. There are two pieces by Kurt Weill, some folk music, a John Tams fairground ballad, a tango and a gypsy waltz, so at the same time it expresses something of the great American and European songwriting traditions from which they spring. The music is performed by an unusual sevenstrong ensemble (in which Gavin Bryars plays the double-bass) with mezzosoprano Jessica Walker.

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 fulllength recorded version of Bryars’ Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet.

“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.

Gypsy Tango

A Little Drop Of Poison

Ballad Of Sexual Dependency

Poor Edward


Whistle Down The Wind

A Little Rain

Innocent When You Dream

Johnsburg Illinois

La Partida

What Keeps Mankind Alive?


Georgia Lee

Broken Bicycles

Train Song

Pull Down Lads

Barbara Allen

The Briar And The Rose


The Times

21st April 2012


“this unlikely but gripping project merits the wider audience that this live recording will bring. Gavin Bryars and his team take the songs of Tom Waits and his wife, Kathleen Brennan, and present them incongruously but superbly sung by the pure-voiced English mezzo Jess Walker...Some Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht ditties and Gypsy dances make perfect complements.”

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