Tom Waits In Touch With The Great Outdoors For New Record

Legendary singer, songwriter and "Down by Law" actor Tom Waits will release his first studio album in over five years with a project tentatively titled, "Mule Variations," due out in March 1999.

The record is Waits' first as part of a new deal with Epitaph Records -- a company usually associated with neo-punk acts like the Offspring. The wizened troubadour is currently finishing up the album at a studio and part-time chicken ranch in Northern California.

Waits told MTV News that he's recorded 25 new songs that are "real dirt simple" -- a move he says was caused by a current musical obsession with old Leadbelly tunes -- and deals with such Americana themes as trains, rain, redemption, farm animals, insects and freaks. Sample song titles include "Clap Hands" and "My Baby's Leaving on the 2:19," which features a guest appearance by Les Claypool of Primus, and "The Eyeball Kid," a song Waits describes as about a "guy born without a body, not even a brow."

Waits also said that

much of his favorite material on the new album was actually recorded outside using an old microphone one of his engineers picked up at a yard sale. "When you go outside," he said, "dogs, kids on bicycles, chickens and airplanes seem to wait until you finish singing a line before they make a sound."

Other guest musicians include bluesmen John Hammond, Charlie Musselwhite and guitarist Marc Ribot. Waits' last release was 1993's "The Black Rider," a collaboration with avant-garde director Robert Wilson and the late William Burroughs. When asked why he hasn't recorded in all these years, Waits laughed and replied, "Well, I was stuck in traffic."