"Mule Variations" by Tom Waits (1999)
For those of you who are familiar with Mr. Waits' previous albums, you're probably asking yourself the same question I asked myself--how in the world did Tom Waits end up signing with Epitaph? Well, as you know, Tom is not a bleached-hair, adolescent pop-punk musician (the staple artist in Epitaph's stable). And he definitely doesn't fall into Epitaph's sub-genre of recent Delta blues artist releases--or does he? The answer is right inside the first track of the album.
Yes folks, it's true that Tom sings the blues, if you can call 'em that. He definitely doesn't sing like you've ever heard before. Tom's blues sound more like a freight train traveling at high speed just after a derailment. A jumbled barrage of slightly off-key sad tunes swaying back and forth as the train skids along the ties. Then, this kaleidoscope of song turns to an artful translucent fantasy as the train mellows to a stop. Absolutely breathtaking!
This album conveys the blues exactly the way they feel--deep, dark, and lonely. But there must be a warning here, this album is for the fans. If you have enjoyed the twisted sounds of the albums Black Rider and Bone Machine, this one is for you. If you are not a fan of Waits' ultra-eccentric style, this album won't sway you into believing that Waits' is one of America's most amazing balladiers.
Either way, check this album out and pay special attention to "Take It With Me," a touching song about memory, love, and integrity. Much like Leonard Cohen, Tom is an acquired taste and for those of us who recognize Tom's genius, it's a required taste. It has been a long time in the making, but Mule Variations has definitely been worth the Wait.
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