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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Scarlett Johansson

Anywhere I Lay My Head (Rhino)

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  In between getting engaged to Van Wilder and filming a make-out session with Penélope Cruz for the new Woody Allen picture, Scarlett Johansson (Scar-Jo if you’re nasty) decided, “Hey, might as well record a bunch of Tom Waits songs.” So she called on the production skills of TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek, and the two road-tripped down to Louisiana to make a record.

  And they kinda pulled it off. No kidding. Sitek’s arrangements (for songs that were pretty much perfect to begin with) are mostly inspired, with the ’80s style echo-drenched textures of the production smartly avoiding most of the indulgent clichés of such a sound. David Bowie lends his voice to two tracks, turning out a charming Beach Boys-esque dum-de-do-wah choral on “Fannin Street.”

  On the other hand, Johansson can’t really sing (but then some might say the same about Waits). She sounds pleasant enough. She keeps her baritone to a sultry whisper, which suits the path she and Sitek chose for these songs. Then again, there’s the title track—originally one of Waits’ most heart-wrenching vocal performances—which didn’t really need a Casio bossa nova beat.

  And that begs the question: Did these songs need any sort of makeover? No. But unlike most full-fledged tribute albums or actress-turned-singer albums, this at least sounds like more than a novelty item. It’s actually a shame that, in 10 years’ time, that’s inevitably how it’ll come to be remembered.