After more than 30 years in the music biz, Chuck E. Weiss is still best known (a) as one of Tom Waits' best friends, and (b) for being the subject of Rickie Lee Jones' hit "Chuck E.'s in Love." The latter distinction hasn't done much for him lately, but he seems to be counting on the former to draw interest in his fourth album, 23rd & Stout. Most of 23rd & Stout sounds like some unreleased Tom Waits album that walks in a Twilight Zone between the Beefheart-influenced throb of Swordfishtrombones and the laid-back beatnik vibe of Blue Valentine. While it's entirely possible that Waits has borrowed a bit of his buddy Weiss' schtick over the years, there's also little argument that Waits is far better at it, and it doesn't help that Weiss' band here (headlined by Tony Gilkyson on guitar and Don Heffington on drums) isn't able to deliver the gloriously strange groove of Waits' more recent work, though the group sounds great on the jazz-leaning material. When Weiss goes into a shaggy-dog story like the title cut or a lurching stomp such as "Prince Minsky's Lament," it's all but impossible not to compare him to Waits, but in all fairness Weiss is a better than average songwriter, and when he lets his funny side take over (like he does on "Half Off at the Rebop Shop," "Sho Is Cold," or "Piccolo Pete"), he's an enjoyable and absorbing performer. (His sly interpretation of "Primrose Lane" also suggests he could deliver a fine set of standards if he were so inclined.) Too much of 23rd & Stout makes Chuck E. Weiss sound like the Baja Marimba Band to Tom Waits' Tijuana Brass, and the shame of that is he's clearly talented enough establish a more distinctive creative identity by now, as the best moments of this album confirm.