Tom Waits Prepping Three Solo Projects

Gruff-voiced singer/songwriter working on 'Woyzeck' LP; rarities, B-sides collection; studio album expected for late this year.

Tom Waits may have spent most of the last year out of the public eye, but the gruff-voiced troubadour is now in the midst of preparing no less than three solo projects, according to a spokesperson for the singer.

Waits has just returned from Copenhagen, Denmark, where his most recent collaboration with theater director Robert Wilson, "Woyzeck," debuted at the Betty Nansen Theater on November 14.

Waits has already recorded demos of the songs that he composed for "Woyzeck," a modern adaptation of Georg Büchner's 19th century play (see "Tom Waits, Robert Wilson To Team On Another Opera") that features Waits singing and playing guitar while accompanied by a symphonic orchestra.

The singer/songwriter has also been assembling songs for what is loosely being referred to as "The Orphans Project," a collection of rare tracks, B-sides and material that Waits has written for various soundtracks and compilations, but which have not appeared on any of his own solo albums.

According to a source close to the project, Waits' label, Epitaph Records, presented the singer with seven CDs worth of material to sift through, the spokesperson said, including some songs that had been downloaded off Napster. Waits is whittling the archival tracks down into a single disc.

Waits has also started writing songs for his next studio album, the planned follow-up to Mule Variations, the acclaimed 1999 record that has sold some 328,000 copies to date, according to SoundScan.

The logistics or a release schedule for the three solo projects have not yet been worked out, but the label hopes to release the new studio album by the end of the year, Waits' rep said.

In related news, Wicked Grin, the new album from blues legend John Hammond that Waits produced — and which features 12 tracks written by Waits, including a pair of new songs, "2:19" and "Fannin Street" — is due to be released by Point Blank/Virgin Records on March 13.

Waits and Hammond have been collaborating since 1992, when Waits contributed a song to Hammond's Got Love If You Want It album. Hammond later returned the favor by making a guest appearance on Mule Variations.

For Wicked Grin, Waits and Hammond assembled an all-star backing band that included bassist Larry Taylor of Canned Heat, drummer Stephen Hodges from the Fabulous Thunderbirds, keyboardist Augie Meyers from the Texas Tornadoes and harmonica bluesman Charlie Musselwhite.

Among the Waits tunes covered on Wicked Grin are "Heartattack and Vine," "16 Shells from a Thirty-Ought Six", "Clap Hands" and "Get Behind the Mule". In addition to playing guitar, Waits also provides backing vocals on the album's closing track, a reworking of the gospel standard "I Know I've Been Changed."