With their new album High & Mighty, Gov't Mule has once again given the lie to the myth that a hard-rockin' band can't possess a finely tuned intellect. Or that a musical group with real strength is too muscle-bound to display sufficient finesse to improvise with urgency and purpose.
The sound of High & Mighty hits home first. Working with producer Gordie Johnson of the Canadian band Big Sugar, Gov't Mule issues forth a massive sound here that reverberates even at low volume. Listen for instance, to the way the chiming guitar touchesgently upon Danny Louis' piano on "So Weak, So Strong. Successive tracks, like "Child ofthe Earth, demonstrate how the slightly dry productionfar less polished 2004's Deja Voodoodelineates the four pieces in the band.
Andy Hess's bass locks in with Matt Abst's drum kit, while each rhythm instrument remains distinct, on "Brand New Angel. Avoiding cliche in his role as the band's guitarist, Warren Haynes neither strains for effect nor uses effects in place of passion, even on "Streamline Woman. And no matter how feverishly he caterwauls, as on that comparatively slight song, he never succumbs to histrionics when he sings.
These cuts range from five to nine minutes because for Gov't Mule, the performance of a song like "Million Miles From Yesterday is a self-renewing part of the creative process of composing. The instrumental "3 String George isn't a scintillating piece of collective musicianship by any stretch of the imagination, yet you can't help but get a sense of how much fun these four men have when they play together.
Pre-release insight into sessions done at Willie Nelson's studio in Austin, Texas indicated an eclectic approach to the material for this new Mule, incorporating reggae, country and funk strains (in addition to the ever-present Led Zeppelin influence). Not surprisingly, those stylistic themes are interwoven into the brawny outline of the arrangements. For instance, the tighten-up guitar on "Like Flies is a decoration, albeit a highly visible one, that leads directly into "Unring the Bell, where the reggae rhythm devolves into dub effects.
With Mule's obvious affection for the Jamaican form, it only stands to reason these players would perform original songs whose lyrics radiate a readily discernible conscience. "Like Flies is an articulate denunciation of the dumbing down of our culture. "Mr. High & Mighty might be aimed at any number of political figures, or a sanctimonious celebrity (or the author himself: "Brighter Days suggest he's nothing if not humble!). And on the quiet quasi-blues album closer, "Endless Parade, Gov't Mule speaks from the middle of the pack, not a self-proclaimed pedestal.
High and Mighty is the rare album that's worth savoring on a number of levels. Even its tongue-in-cheek cover is worth a second look. And for seventy minutes, the thought processes and musicianship at work within the songs are as clear as the sonics themselves.
Personnel: Warren Haynes: guitars and vocals; Matt Abst: drums and percussion; Danny Louis:
keyboards; additional guitar on "Like Flies" and background vocals; Andy Hess: bass; Gordie
Johnson: background vocals and tambourine; The Mighty Mighties (Ruthie Foster, Sonia
Moore, Sheree Smith): background vocals on "Million Miles From Yesterday."