This album is, very easily, the most "Tom Waits" album you can find. This is Tom Waits at his most original. From the already unnerving song titles ("Earth Died Screaming", "Such a Scream", "The Ocean Doesn't Want Me", "Murder in the Red Barn") you get an idea of what the record may sound like. However, "Bone Machine" is vastly different from any other Tom Waits release.
Instead of even a trap kit for drums, nearly every song employs Tom, Kathleen, and another musician playing "sticks" (as a comical sidenote, the three musicians are called 'The Boners') which literally sounds like a human skeleton being played like a xylophone. Then, the rest of the instrumentation is fairly low-key. If I had to assign instruments that could summarize this album, it would be "sticks", bass clarinet, and acoustic bass. The most essential part of this album is Tom's voice, which has never come closer to convincing half of America that he is dying of throat cancer. To add to the emotional rawness that Tom purveys through these songs, many of the time he sings in falsetto...you can imagine what THAT sounds like.
The songs are very blues-influenced on this album, but early blues. The instrumentation is "All Stripped Down", but extremely original. And if you haven't heard "Goin' Out West" yet, you are missing out on Tom Waits' coolest song ever.
This album is not for the light Waits fans. If you need an intro disc, get "Raindogs" or "Alice", don't start here. But for a Tom Waits fan, this may be his best.