Gov’t Mule – ‘Revolution Come… Revolution Go’ (Spinefarm) Print E-mail
CD Reviews
Written by Mark Ashby   
Tuesday, 11 July 2017 04:00

Govt Mule artGov’t Mule should really need no introduction to fans of the country-blues-rock genre, but for those unfamiliar with the name (and, if you are, which bush have you been burying your head for the past quarter of a century?), here is a quick introduction:

 

The band trace their roots back to the early 1990s, when Allman Brothers guitarist Warren Haynes and bassist Allen Woody joined forces with drummer Matt Abts (who had played alongside Haynes in Dickey Betts’ band – pay attention at the back, ‘cos we know these suvern boys can be a bit incestuous!) to give the former two another creative outlet during the lengthy periods of downtime experienced by their main band… Twenty-three years later – albeit without the sadly deceased Woody, who passed away back at the turn of the millennium – they’re still at it, and threatening to outlive the band which spawned the project (especially in the wake of the passing of Gregg Allman earlier this year), with the release of this, their tenth studio album…

 

The title of ‘Revolution Come… ‘ in itself is quite apt: the material was written during last year’s election campaign on the other side of the pond, and the band went into the studio on the day the folks in the USofA went to the polls. Obviously, given these circumstances, there is some quite overtly political material on this epic release – it’s 12 songs clock in at more than an hour and a quarter – with tracks such as lead single ‘Stone Cold Rage’, ‘Pressure Under Fire’ and the title song reflecting the feeling of upset and outrage at least one half of the nation would feel once the results were in… in fact, the influence of the political landscape at the time is evident even in the album’s distinctive artwork, which shows a soldier atop a broken toy mule facing the wrong way as he yells through an orange street cone: “yelling to nobody and facing backwards” as Haynes himself puts it.

 

Having said that, the Mule are in no way trying to force any particular dogma or ideology down anyone throat: the band, like many musicians, have always been acutely politically aware, and over the years have offered forth some pretty strident observations on the state of their homeland as they see it at the time. While they may rage against the machine (sic), they do so in a way which echoes the emotions and sentiments of ordinary working man, regardless of affiliation. This rage is captured perfectly in the opener, ‘Stone Cold Rage’, which is built on a fiery riff from Haynes, whose vocals cuts like a laser right to the heart of the matter; a beautiful swelling organ from Danny Lewis keeps the song firmly rooted in the heart of the blues, while the rhythm section of Abts and Jorgen Carlsson keep the bottom end together tighter than a duck with constipation.

 

‘Revolution Come… ‘ is also a very diverse album – possibly the most so that the band have recorded in their 23-year career. With Haynes settling well into middle age (and, hey, none of us are getting any younger), you might think that he would be content to settle back in his rocking chair and stick with the tried and tested… No sirree, Bob, he’s still pushing the boundaries and bending the rules as far as the strings on his fretboard will allow. ‘Drawn That Way’ is a prime example, reflecting as it does the artist’s DNA: he was made to be creative and that’s just what he is, as the song punches hard and heavy, with a crunching main riff which, in the second half, transforms into a relaxed blues jam session.

 

 

There’s another change of mood with ‘Pressure Under Fire’, which is perhaps the closest the album comes to recreating the Allman Brothers vibe, with Haynes’ ironic and soulful vocal containing just a hint of remorse, but at the same time challenging the listener to sit up and take notice to what he’s saying, and overlaying another punchy riff, but this time with a hard country edge to it, while Lewis’ beautifully relaxed keyboard just peeks through the gaps to add valuable colour and texture. ‘The Man I Want To Be’ starts off with a proggy vibe, before evolving, quickly, into a hearty soul-blues slice of joyous introspection, Haynes’ vocal virtually bleeding from the speakers and another precise performance from Lewis emphasizing the emotion of the frontman’s appeal to “give me one more chance”. The solo is a glorious slice of traditional blues, and overall this is one of the best performances I have ever heard from Haynes in any of his guises. We’re just a third of the way through the album, and it’s just getting better every minute…

 

‘Traveling Tune’ sees another complete switch of gear, and a welcome one it is, as it’s country vibe is look a cool wind on a hot summer’s afternoon, and is both celebratory and regretful – a combination of emotions which Haynes seems consistently able to combine as if they were eternally supposed to be conjoined, as he celebrates the gift that he has been given but mourns the price he has to pay to do what he does. ‘Thorns Of Life’ closes off the first half of the album in truly epic style: well, it is just 12 seconds shy of the nine-minute mark! The result is a suitably psychedelic-infused studio jam, in which the band pick up the main theme of the song and just see where it goes, before returning to the theme and again extrapolating upon it: it’s a real throwback to when bands did things like this, and recalls the roots of the project (and, indeed, the bands from which it was spawned), but doing so in a way which seems to stray slightly outside their comfort zone…

 

If this was released on vinyl, ‘Dreams & Songs’ would probably be kicking off the second disc: it certainly lives up to the first part of its title, as it’s a dreamy little blues dander, with another superb vocal from Haynes, accentuated by the use of female backing harmonies, while Lewis’ outro is simply sublime. As I mentioned earlier, this is a diverse album, and ‘Sarah, Surrender’ emphasizes this once again, with a funky little bass mien underpinning Haynes’ static guitar stabs and Lewis’ keys once again peeking in and out of the melody: the result reminds very much of the blend of sounds the Stevie Van Zandt specializes in bringing together, and keeps the chilled-out vibe of the album’s middle section going nicely.

 

 

The title track eases in nicely, with another psychedelic blues vibe, underpinned this time by a superbly funky bass line from Jorgen Carlsson, who bounces off and around Lewis’ keyboard melody while perfectly matching Abst’s precise snare and hi-hat led beat, while Haynes delivers another acid-tongued vocal indictment of the situation which inspires this beautifully ironic eight-minute workout – for that’s exactly what the last third of the song is, as the organist, guitarist and bassist improvise their way through the closing segment, before Haynes stops it in his track with an emphatic final statement.

 

The band may have eased off the blues pedal slightly in the middle third of the album, but they definitely rectify the situation in the final quarter, as Jimmie Vaughan saunters into the studio to remind Haynes and co where exactly they came from: the result, ‘Burning Point’ lives up to its name, as the song sizzles and boils before Vaughan strikes the match that turns the song into an incendiary slow-burner that’ll cook your steak just by glancing at it. ‘Easy Times’ is a relaxed blues with another soul-searching vocal from Haynes, whose guitar’s mournful tones is matched by Lewis’ beautifully understated organ, which once again flows easier than the finest bourbon.

 

They say you should always save the best to last: on this occasion, the Mule save something really special, as closer ‘Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground’ is a reworking of the traditional blues instrumental originally recorded by Blind Willie Johnson. But, this is no mere cover: it’s a complete re-invention of the song, which stays true to the original while also bringing it forward 90 years: for a start, Haynes adds words to Johnson’s originally indiscernible humming, evoking the gospel roots of the tune in the process. He also more than doubles it in length, adding in a fuzzed-out guitar section and also refraining some of the album’s earlier moments with a pastiche of sounds, making the song sound extremely fresh and original, while also playing homage to its origins – just as Haynes does to his own throughout.

 

This is not a perfect album: the middle section, with its jazz and prog diversions, does drag a bit. But it is a good one: a fucking good one, which demonstrates the immense talents of the musicians responsible for its creation and shows how great artists are not, and never should be, afraid to push their own boundaries of self-exploration and expression. It’s been a great year for blues albums, and this is yet another album which proves that the genre, far from living in the past, is highly relevant and will continue to be so for quite some time to come.

 

‘Revolution Come… Revolution Go’ is out now. You can get your copy HERE.

 

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