Gov’t Mule: Mighty High

Appreciating Mighty High means allowing for Warren Haynes and Gov’t Mule to indulge their recent surge of interest in dub and other reggae flavors. There’s a lot to like on Mighty High and a lot to discard. Even haters of the CD–some Mule fanatics have called it un-listenable, and they’re not totally wrong, should feel comfortable knowing the band has no plans for a holding pattern with this musical output. Trust in that.

Much of the good stuff isn’t new: Mule’s meaty cover of Al Green’s "I’m a Ram," for example, has been a live staple for years, and here it  doesn’t deviate much from the hot versions on bootlegs, give or take some dub enhancements. The version here of "Hard to Handle," reggae-fied with backup singers, dub mixing, and lead vocals from Toots Hibbert during his New Year’s Eve 2006 performance with the band, is great fun, filled with soulful drama and head-nodding bounce. "Horseflies" is a nasty little instrumental, and "I’m a Ram" returns at the end of the disc, too, remixed as "Plasticine Era" and featuring the great Willi Williams, chant-singing atop a killer Matt Abts drum playground and lots of screeching guitar and keyboard effects.

But the Rolling Stones’ "Play With Fire," which has become one of the band’s most crackling set openers in the past year, doesn’t
connect as intensely on disc. And many of the other tracks sound like filler; "Hard to Dubya" is the phlegmy jam-out from "Hard to Handle" right before it, and "Unthrow the Spear," "Reblow Your Mind" and "Unblow Your Horn" are somewhat aimless variations on "Unring the Bell," the sturdy invective from 2006’s High and Mighty.

The take on the Band’s "The Shape I’m In" is the disc’s dealbreaker, and it really depends on mood. I can appreciate the
band taking such liberties, especially with the rapid key shifts, wah-wah guitar, and jazzy rhythms. But "Shape" also has so much
rollick and bounce in its original version that Mule’s also comes off as messing for the sake of mess. There’s enough in the song, though, like the disc as a whole to warrant repeat listens.

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