Personnel: Tom Waits (vocals, guitar, piano, organ, pump organ, Chamberlain, optigon, percussion); Smokey Hormel (guitar, dobro); Larry Taylor (guitar, bass); Larry LaLonde, Marc Ribot, Joe Gore (guitar); Linda Delucia-Gbidossi (violin); Charlie Musselwhite, John Hammond (harmonica); Larry Rhodes (bassoon); Ralph Carney (bass clarinet, reeds, alto saxophone, saxophone, trumpet); Nik Phelps (baritone saxophone); Chris Grady (trumpet); Greg Cohen (bass, percussion); Les Claypool, Dalton Dilligham III (bass); Andrew Borger (drums, percussion); Brain Mantia, Christopher Marvin (drums); Stephen Hodges, Jeff Sloan (percussion); Jacquire King (programming); DJ M. Mark Reitman (turntable); Kathleen Brennan.
Engineers: Oz Fritz, Jacquire King, Gene Cornelius.
MULE VARIATIONS won the 2000 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album. "Hold On" was nominated for the 2000 Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance.
Since 1993's BLACK RIDER album consisted of music written by Waits and William Burroughs to accompany a Robert Wilson play, hard-liners consider '92's BONE MACHINE to be the last "official" Waits album before the seven-year wait that ended with the release of MULE VARIATIONS. Unsurprisingly, Waits lives up to the expectations engendered by that lengthy wait. In fact, there are more stylistic threads connecting MULE VARIATIONS to BONE MACHINE than to BLACK RIDER.
The chugging rock drive of the opener "Big in Japan" (featuring Primus) recalls "Goin' Out West." "What's He Building?" is a wonderfully devilish spoken word piece a la Ken Nordine (one of Waits' heroes) much akin to BONE MACHINE's "The Ocean Doesn't Want Me Today." Waits also continues BONE MACHINE's exploration/deconstruction of traditional blues and gospel, making for some of MULE VARIATIONS strongest tracks (the bluesy "Get Behind the Mule" and "Chocolate Jesus"). Ultimately, with a few exceptions, this is Waits' most low-key, ballad-heavy album in some time, and he's at his simplest and most affecting on tunes like "Take It With Me," which represent an unprecedented level of emotional nakedness in his writing.
- RSD Release Date: n/a
- Format: Vinyl
- Genre: Pop
- Released: 4/20/1999