There has been nothing new from the Californian singer-songwriter since “Bad As Me” which came out in 2011, but his iconic features appear in the work of the best tattoo artists worldwide

There is no doubt about 2019 being a personal milestone for Tom Waits. On 7th December next, the artist from Pomona (California) will turn 70 and, as far as anyone knows, there are no new records on the cards. Which is a pity.

Rain Dog hasn’t moved on since “Bad As Me” which came out in autumn 2011 to critical acclaim and the adoration of his countless fans all over the world.

Lea Nahon, Private Studio, Douarnenez, France
Lea Nahon, Private Studio, Douarnenez, France

We will just have to wait till 14th June to see Tom Waits involved in some artistic endeavour when “The Dead Don’t Die” is released in American cinemas.

The movie is a horror story with a political setting directed by Jim Jarmusch (the cast also includes Adam Driver, Bill Murray and Selena Gomez) and the singer with the unmistakable voice will play Hermit Bob, a philosopher/hermit who lives in the woods around the small town of Centerville, engaged in his own personal battle against the “undead”.

But 2019 marks twenty years exactly since “Mule Varations” was released, the signature album which came out on 16th April 1999 and is considered by many to be his definitive masterpiece.

Steve Morris, Bodyworks Tattoo, Penn Hills, USA
Steve Morris, Bodyworks Tattoo, Penn Hills, USA

It is considered to be even more important than his lounge lizard ‘70s crooner phase (drunk, naturally), and the memorable “Small Change” in 1976, the experimental work in “Swordfishtrombones” (1983), the legendary “Rain Dogs” (1985, an absolute must have for any self-respecting tattoo shop) or the industrial blues in “Bone Machine” (1992).

Mule Variations”, composed by Waits together with his lifetime partner Kathleen Brennan (married in summer 1980 in Las Vegas and mother of his three children), symbolises his radical change of record label (from Island to Anti, a subsidiary of the punk label Epitaph) and his return to the scene thanks to a hugely successful tour of major American and European theatres. Something Waits hadn’t done in over ten years.

Bob Tyrrell, Night Gallery, Detroit, USA
Bob Tyrrell, Night Gallery, Detroit, USA

The record won a Grammy the following year for “Best Contemporary Folk Record” (an award Waits has always been extremely proud of) and boasted a cast of sterling artists including trusty guitarist Marc Ribot, bassist Les Claypool from Primus, drummer Brain Mantia and blues harmonica player Charles Musselwhite.

Mule Variations” is perfect in the end from start to finish because it sixteen memorable songs encapsulate all that is best of the musical vision of Waits whether it is serious country blues, sound experimentation or his signature heartbreaking smoky ballads. An utterly timeless album which has just turned twenty but could just as easily be eighty years old. Or have just come out and have us hooked the first time we hear it.

Roberto Da Silva, Da Silva Tattoo, Bielefeld, Germany
Roberto Da Silva, Da Silva Tattoo, Bielefeld, Germany

There is no point is listing the track names in the age of Spotify. We just suggest you take a listen while you admire the marvellous portraits dedicated to the man/troll from Pomona which appear in this article.

Enjoy the album and enjoy the read!