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Tom Waits | Mule Variations (Epitaph)
Waits sixteenth album is his first all-new collection for six years. Deeply rooted in the Blues, Mule Variations contains half a dozen pure blues tunes, albeit swamped with Waits' unique lyrical slant and arrangements. Get Behind The Mule found its inspiration in a quote from Robert Johnson's father about his son - 'Trouble with Robert is he wouldn't get behind the mule in the morning and plow (sic)' ?? and Lowside of the Road draws from an incident in the life of Leadbelly; hell he even begins Cold Water with 'Woke up this morning...' Waits' Heartattack and Vine (1980) contained the Springsteen-covered Jersey Girl and, if ever the exercise was to be repeated, Hold On sounds like an obvious contender; it's one of many affecting ballads that grace Mule Variations. The carnivorous Filipino Box Spring Hog dates back to '93 when it turned up (in a different form) on the Born To Choose benefit compilation, a track Waits considers 'surrural' (between surreal and rural); in effect a twisted update of traditional down-home themes. As ever it is Waits' bourbon-drenched delivery that will inspire seduction or a swift switching off. As a summation of his repertoire, this new album would be as good a place as any to take your first sip.

Matt Dornan
CWAS #4 - Winter 1998/9 - The Lost Issue

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