It can be difficult for a legendary group to get anything accomplished. There are family pressures, usually coming from second, or even third, wives. Seems somebody's in rehab, whether by choice or court mandate. Then there are those long-standing feuds that need time to simmer down. Members, who are somewhat together, often start side projects to fill the time. These ventures also afford a musician a chance to play something different. Guitarist Warren Haynes and Allen Woody joined the Allman Brothers Band in '89. Five years later, the duo picked up drummer Matt Abts to form Gov't Mule. Their psychedelic, Bluesy power-trio Rock, made its debut on their self-titled '95 album. '98 saw the release of sophomore effort "Dose."
Any band with virtuoso talent and jam-band mentality is going to be far more compelling on stage than in a recording studio. Gov't Mule realized this and began releasing a stellar series of live albums beginning with "Live… With A Little Help From Our Friends."
Another studio effort, "Life Before Insanity" arrived in '00. But here is where the story took a horrible turn. The group had begun work on its next album when, on August 26th, '00, Woody was found dead in his NY hotel room. Haynes and Abts decided to complete the project but couldn't bring themselves to replace Woody right away. Rather, they employed bass players from just about every musical stripe: Blues Rock (Jack Bruce), Funk Rock (Flea), Funk (Bootsy Collins), Hard Rock (John Entwistle), R&B (Larry Graham) and Jazz (John Scofield). The result was the "Deep End Volumes I & II." Bassist Oteil Burbridge worked the subsequent tour.
A second volume of "Live...With A Little Help From Our Friends" appeared in '02, and the "Deepest End: Live In Concert CD And DVD" rolled out a year later.
'04's "Deja Voodoo" featured Woody's official replacement, Andy Hess. Gov't Mule also added keyboardist Danny Louis. The group issued "High & Mighty" in '06. "We took the interplay that happens onstage and utilized it to create something magical in the studio," said Haynes.
Just to turn things around the bit, Gov't Mule released Reggae and Dub versions of songs from their catalog on '07's "Mighty High."
The double-DVD A Tail Of Two Cities, the follow-up to their platinum-selling The Deepest End DVD, captured the last night of '04's Deja Voodoo Tour at The Orpheum Theatre in Boston and the first night of the High & Mighty tour, two years later, at the Riviera Theatre in Chicago. Issued in '07, the DVDs documented that band's evolution into a quartet.
Gov't Mule had a bit of a jolt in '08 when Hess left. He was replaced by Jorgen Carlsson. The following year the band issued their eighth studio album "By A Thread." "Broke Down On The Brazos," a track featuring Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top), was available on Gov't Mule's website.
Over 10 years after it was recorded, the triple-disc "Mulennium," was finally released in '10. The 12/31/99 concert at the Roxy in Atlanta had Woody in his last New Year's Eve show with the band (he died eight months later). The set list ranged from Mule originals to covers of Led Zeppelin ("Dazed And Confused"), The Who ("We're Not Gonna Take It") and The Beatles ("Helter Skelter") to traditional Blues.
On his own, Haynes issued "Man In Motion" in '11.
A couple years later, Gov't Mule issued "Shout!", their first studio album in four years. The '13 set was also their first for Blue Note Records and had a bonus disc with of covers of the album's tracks featuring Elvis Costello, Grace Potter and Steve Winwood, among others.
1995 Gov't Mule
1996 Live From Roseland Ballroom
1999 Live... With A Little Help From Our Friends
2000 Life Before Insanity
2001 The Deep End, Volume 1
2002 The Deep End, Volume 2
2003 The Deepest End, Live In Concert
2004 Deja Voodoo
2005 Mo' Voodoo (EP)
2006 High & Mighty
2007 Mighty High
2008 Holy Haunted House
2009 By A Thread
Though they are an Allman Brothers' off-shoot, Gov't Mule doesn't tread the same ground. Chronologically, they would be classified as a '90s band but their touchstone is right out of the Blues drenched late '60s/early '70s.
The Blues have been around forever so playing them with sincere passion and verve is no small achievement. That's Gov't Mule's stock and trade. Haynes, on guitar and singing, is the obvious focal point but he gets vital support from the Abts-Woody rhythm section.
Gov't Mule is not afraid to tackle a cover. When they do, it's usually a lesser known song which allows them some room to reinterpret. Recording a Creedence Clearwater Revival song isn't that daring. There's "Proud Mary," "Lookin' Out My Back Door" or even "Down On The Corner." All would be safe bets. That's why Gov't Mule went with the somber "Effigy." They give the tune more grit than John Fogerty did on the original. Pretty impressive. Haynes has a guff voice and a stinging guitar style built for Blues Rock. The group performs the same trick on Deep Purple's "Maybe I'm A Leo" and Grand Funk Railroad's "Sin's A Good Man's Brother." Live they take on Black Sabbath ("War Pigs").
Gov't Mules first two efforts, their self-titled debut and "Dose" are exciting Blues-Rock romps. However, it's when they go off the deep end that they really score. "Deep End I & II" are the ones to get. Haynes and Abts stretch out stylistically with each bass player. It's here that they cover CCR, Deep Purple and Grand Funk.
"Live...With A Little Help From Our Friends" is just that. The group expands their power trio concept with the aid of guitarist Marc Ford (Black Crowes) and keyboardist Chuck Leavell (Allman Brothers), among others.
"Life Before Insanity" is a low key effort and not among Gov't Mule's strongest. "Deja Voodoo" puts them back on track. Though Gov't Mule had incorporated organ and piano on select tracks in the past, the addition of Louis, full-time, adds depth and texture. "Deja Voodoo" is a down and dirty Blues album with "Bad Man Walking" ("there's a bad man walking and he looks like me") and "Perfect Shelter.
Gov't Mule dispenses with their usual eclecticism on "High & Mighty" and land firmly in '70s arena Rock. And that's not a bad place for them to be. The mid-tempo songs allow Haynes to show off both his guitar acumen and soulful vocals. This is especially evident on "Nothing Again" which totals the price of chasing fame. The acoustic "So Weak, So Strong," could pass as an alternate take on Blind Faith's "Can't Find My Way Home." "Endless Parade" also tracks life's choices and the costs. While it rolls out clichés ("practice what you preach" and "be careful what you wish for") it concludes with the clever, yet revealing line, "the circus came to town, I guess it stayed").
The album opens with the tough Rock Blues of "Mr. High & Mighty." Solid start. The economical "Streamline Woman" is easily the set's killer track.
Usually, when a Rock group attempts Reggae the results are wooden and uninspired (think Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton). But on "Unring The Bell" Gov't Mule actually manages to find some heart and a groove.
Haynes sets the tone and Louis provides the shading on "By A Thread." The rhythm section, Abts and Carlsson, don't miss a beat. But where Gov't Mule soars is on the Blues based jams. "Any Open Window" and the set opener, a dirty boogie number, "Broke Down On The Brazos," do the trick. For those missing the wah-wah drenched '60s, check out "Inside Outside Woman Blues #3."
"Shout!" illustrates just how difficult it is to breathe new life into electric Blues - even when performed by top notch musicians. Opener "World Boss" does generate some excitement but "Captured" sounds like one of those pseudo-Blues tracks Clapton recorded in the '70s, '80s and '90s - and that's the problem. "Stoop So Low" is a decent shot of Blues Rock but that effort is bested by "Funny Little Tragedy." A cool riff and a great groove wins every time.