Gov't Mule – High And Mighty (2006)

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by Pico

Whoa, what’s this? A review on a hot-out-of-the-oven release of a rock record by a well known band…from this site? We’re supposed to stick with old records and/or out of the mainstream stuff, right? Hey, we like our rock ‘n’ roll too, and there’s even a few guys on today’s scene we follow. Especially guys like Gov’t Mule.

For The Mule is a throwback to the day when any rock band with grit sounded like The Stones and Led Zeppelin, and they weren’t called “blues-rock”; just plain rock, dammit. There’s still a market for that kind of music for baby boomers and the younger folk alike. The Black Crowes understood that fifteen years ago and picked up the torch but they couldn’t keep it going. That job is now left to Warren Haynes (guitars), Matt Abts (drums), Andy Hess (bass) and Danny Louis (keyboards).

Conceived in 1994 as a Southern fried version of Cream (or an updated version of Mountain, if you prefer), Allman Brothers Band-mates Haynes and Allen Woody (bass) hooked up with Dickey Betts’ drummer Abts to form this side project that became a full time endeavor a few years later. Three studio and two live albums later, the Mule looked poised to bust out when Woody tragically OD’d in 2000. The surviving two responded by recording two whole volumes of The Deep End, both of which included every big name imaginable guesting on bass, from Les Claypool to the Meters’ George Porter, Jr. Eventually, G.M. got around to hiring Woody’s replacement, and the Crowes’ Andy Hess was a logical choice. Often-used sideman Louis became a full-fledged member around the same time.

This is the crew that gave us the solid Déjà Voodoo a couple of years ago and are now back again with High And Mighty today.

High And Mighty continues the Gov’t Mule characteristic of a new album being steady progression instead of a big leap. And that means Warren Haynes’ already strong songwriting takes on a little more depth than it did before. Power blues-rock is not an easy idiom to contain an album full of varied, interesting songs but these guys seem to do it effortlessly nowadays.

Maybe it’s because Haynes’ musical roots were so diverse, taking in everything from Merle Haggard to John Coltrane. And there’s always an element of funk in his music; you can sway your hips just as readily as you bang your head to it, like Chris Squire used to do so effectively if only for a few short years. But having had a wide range of bass players contributing on the Deep End sessions must have left a mark on this band, too, because they’ve started venturing outside that power trio shell on Déjà Voodoo and ventured out yet some more for this go around.

And before we go any further let’s not forget that Warren is no B+ guitarist; he’s the highly regarded heir to Duane Allman, after all. He might lack the distinctive tone of, say, his Allmans bandmate Derek Trucks, but he can comfortably handle a wider array of styles. And his voice is both soulful and powerful, not too distant from Freddie King’s wail. The rest of the group aren’t exactly slouches, either, but in this outfit Haynes is The Man. And given all of his talents, that’s no bad thing.

So perhaps you want a quick rundown of the songs before deciding whether to rush out and plunk down your nickels, eh? Alright, then:

The band hands out it’s calling card right away in the lead-off track Mr. High And Mighty with a riff as hard hitting and catchy as anything AC/DC did in their prime. Brand New Angel starts out sounding like a rockified version of the Temptations’ “Ball Of Confusion” until Haynes’ licks and Abts machine gun drums remind you this ain’t no soul ditty. So Weak, So Strong will get a nod of approval of anyone who dug Heart’s wonderful Zep knockoff “Love Alive” from Little Queen, right down to the looping bass line; it’s Haynes’ best composition out of this batch of songs.

Streamline Woman is a straight-ahead hard rocker underpinned by Abts’ wicked double bass drum and features Haynes’ slippery slide work. Child Of The Earth is a soulful number that slows down the pace a bit while Like Flies features more nice slide from Haynes and some tight bass/drum interplay out of Abts and Hess. Unring The Bell is a raggae, Mule style, with some extended jamming; Louis’ organ coupled with Haynes’ wah wah is a highlight.

After another soulful turn with Nothing Again is the gospel-inflected Million Miles From Yesterday. Brighter Days starts with some raga-flavored blues guitar supported by another power bass/drums pulse (it’s safe to say at this point that Hess is working out quite well as Woody’s replacement). The nine minute Endless Parade is next, the track where the band switches into full jam mode with Haynes’ guitar sounding a lot like Albert King, echoing his axe work on The Allmans’ “High Cost Of Low Living” from 2003’s Hittin’ The Note.

One listen to the instrumental bonus track 3 String George and you’ll understand it’s the aforementioned George Porter, Jr. being referenced here; the song is a dead ringer for some lost Cissy Strut-era Meters tune, and makes for a nifty little way to wind down the CD.

Now officially two albums into the post-Allen Woody e
ra, Gov’t Mule not only survives the death of a key player but seems to have come back stronger than ever. High And Mighty will make you believe that there is plenty of life in this band after Allen Woody’s death, and look forward to the next step in their progression. This time, there’s nothing holding back The Mule.

  

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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