1999, Music

Mule Variations (1999) by Tom Waits

At this point, anyone who has followed Waits since his left-turn in the early 1980s knows what to expect from a Waits album. Aside from from production choices, most Waits albums of the last 35 years have sounded rather similar to each other, with everything in his own inimitable style, and the only major difference record to record is the quality of the songs.

This is a particularly large set. Without looking it up, I would stand to wager this is among Waits’ longest albums to date. Fortunately that’s because there is a lot of good to great material. Particularly, there is a lot of rather conventional material – for Waits – which makes the record sound a little more traditional than his albums often sound. Waits has included these more traditional songs since his drastic change in sound, but I’m not sure he’s ever included this many of them on a single record before.

Of course, much of that is just in how Waits chooses to arrange his songs. If he took the more earnest songs here and gave them more “waitsian” arrangements and left the more straightforward arrangements for the snider and odder tracks, I’m not sure the effect would be that different, really. (What if he’s done that and I just can’t tell?)

Anyway, it’s a good set of songs with a nice balance between his softer side and his weirder side.

8/10

PS “What’s He Building?” is basically The ‘Burbs in song.

All tracks written by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan unless otherwise noted.

  1. “Big in Japan” 4:05
  2. “Lowside of the Road” 2:59
  3. “Hold On” 5:33
  4. “Get Behind the Mule” 6:52
  5. “House Where Nobody Lives” (Waits) 4:14
  6. “Cold Water” 5:23
  7. “Pony” (Waits) 4:32
  8. “What’s He Building?” (Waits) 3:20
  9. “Black Market Baby” 5:02
  10. “Eyeball Kid” 4:25
  11. “Picture in a Frame” 3:39
  12. “Chocolate Jesus” 3:55
  13. “Georgia Lee” 4:24
  14. “Filipino Box Spring Hog” (Waits) 3:09
  15. “Take It with Me” 4:24
  16. “Come on Up to the House” 4:36
  • Tom Waits – vocals (1–7, 9–16), The Voice (8), Guitar (1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 9, 12), Piano (5, 11, 13, 15, 16), Organ (3), Pump Organ (7), percussion (9, 10), Chamberlin (9), Optigan (2)
  • Andrew Borger – drums (9, 14, 16), Percussion (14)
  • Ralph Carney – Trumpet (1), Sax (1, 16), Alto-Sax (11), Bass Clarinet (10), Reeds (8, 9)
  • Les Claypool – Bass (1)
  • Greg Cohen – Bass (11, 12, 15), Percussion (10)
  • Linda Deluca-Ghidossi – Violin (13)
  • Dalton Dillingham III – Bass (13)
  • Joe Gore – Guitar (3, 16)
  • Chris Grady – Trumpet (2, 14)
  • John Hammond – Blues Harp (7)
  • Stephen Hodges – Percussion (3, 4)
  • Smokey Hormel – Guitar (4), Dobro (7), Chumbus & Dousengoni (2)
  • Jacquire King – Programming (2, 14)
  • Larry LaLonde – Guitar (1)
  • Brain Mantia – Drums (1)
  • Christopher Marvin – Drums (6)
  • Charlie Musselwhite – Blues Harp (4, 12, 14, 16)
  • Nik Phelps – Bari-Sax (11, 16)
  • DJ M. Mark “The III Media” Reitman – Turntable (8, 9, 10, 14)
  • Larry Rhodes – Contrabassoon (10)
  • Marc Ribot – Guitar (3, 9, 10, 14), Lead Guitar (5), Guitar Solo (6, 9)
  • Jeff Sloan – Percussion (8)
  • Larry Taylor – Bass (3, 4, 5, 6, 14, 16), Guitar (14), Rhythm Guitar (5)
  • Wings Over Jordan Gospel, Bali Eternal – Turntable Samples (10)

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