Mule Variations is one of my favorites as well plus several of his earlier records, too numerous to name.
I bet if you search the archives you will see plenty on Tom Waits.
I am a big fan. Amazing, unique voice. A great gift for metaphor. So many of his songs create both aural and visual images that listening to him is like experiencing synesthesia. Here is my current Tom Waits playlist:
Dead & Lovely
Sins of My Father
Way Down in the Hole
Jesus Gonna Be Here
How's It Gonna End
Yep, big Waits fan here too, since way back. I think my introduction to him was Blue Valentine and I've been hooked ever since. He's never disappointed me, but certainly some recent work is more 'challenging' than previous work. Still, love all his work. His mastery of language is genius, and entirely unique. I'm particularly fond of the collaborations with his wife, Kathleen Brennan, especially, "SwordfishTrombone". For some reason I'm particulary drawn to his spoken works too. A recent favorite is "Circus" from RealGone (a great live version of which is on "Glitter and Doom" makes that album worth the investment - otherwise that album is very poor acoustically, but has some good live performances).
If I had to list three favorites they'd be, SwordfishTrombone, Small Change, and Rain Dogs.
There's some very good compilation collections: Used Songs, Beautiful Maladies, The Early Years, Orphans..., and The Asylum Years. For anyone unfamiliar with Waits one of these might be a good place to start...I'd go with Beautiful Maladies as that's pretty approachable and midway through his career (also some of my favorite stuff of what he's done).
Heck, yeah. Best show I EVER saw was Waits at the Fox in Atlanta on his Glitter and Doom tour...the coolest crowd, too. He started an hour late, but when he started, it was like nothing I'd ever heard. His band was killer too. Utterly effortless and relaxed sound like none of them were working. This show I later found out was recorded in its entirety for NPR's All Songs Considered, and it's a jewel.
Between the release of "Closing Time" and "Heart of Saturday Night" in the early '70s, I used to see Waits in bars and clubs on the east coast, no cover charge. I could all but stand right next to him. After "Saturday" was released, it cost $1 - $3 to be able to get in. I was an instant admirer.
Most of his early albums were recorded with simple mic'ing, and hence are paragons for natural sound. Also explosive dynamics from his vocals. Every creative turn he's taken has been interesting, expressive and worth following. "Orphans" is a compelling tour of the back side of "Tom Waits for No One"'s meandering mind.
Funny saying Waits is a cinematographer. Dylan was there first but Waits certainly wrote for Technicolor, and still does today.
Waits on vinyl is especially vivid.
I have been a Tom Waits fan ever since hearing Bone Machine in 1992. That one holds a special place for me in Tom Waits line-up. I have to say Black Rider is often neglected too, but I saw a live staging of it by One Yellow Rabbit and it's a great take on Weber' Opera.
From his earliest Albums, I will have to say I love both Closing Time and Heart of Saturday Night equally - lots of amazing songwriting on those first two: From "I hope that I don't fall in love" and "OL'55" on Closing Time to "San Diego Serenade" on Heart of Saturday Night, they are both amazing albums.
The middle period (1980s) is pretty popular, but for myself I am somehow always drawn to the earlier 1970s and early 1990s albums.
Im a huge fan... especially Toms early stuff but I have to say his Glitter & Doom Live is a bit too much for me. His Orphans CD shows off his genius in of all things writing songs for childrens' movies while at the same time it includes a bed time story that clearly suggests that children should be locked safely away if Toms anywhere near. I love the liner notes picture of Tom standing in front of the horn speakers blowing his hair back. He is a treasure to say the least.
Yup, Ribot is a unique and excellent musician. His recent Asmodeus disc is a good ripping electric trio date, but not as well recorded as some others. The Eclecticism CD w/ Kazutoki Umezu, (especially track 1) is incredible. I know it's kind of apples and oranges, but I've always thought Don Van Vliet (whose birthday is today) did a helluva lot more than Waits to enrich and expand popular (and maybe not so popular) music.
I was in a band with a guitarist (Paul Skelton. He plays on albums by Austinites Wayne Hancock, Libby Bosworth, and Cornell Hurd) who loved Tom's early, "beatnik"-era albums, but I found them a little too self-consciously hipster for me. His Swordfishtrombones album changed all that, and his next (Rain Dogs) sealed the deal. Great albums!
But then he took to singing through a bullhorn, and lost me. In the 90's I saw him live in a double-bill with Los Lobos (how's THAT for a show?!), and found him not to my liking. I still like his acting, though. Down By Law, and Coffee And Cigarettes (in a scene with Iggy Pop!) in particular.