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Gov’t Mule – Dub Side of the Mule (ALBUM REVIEW)

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muledubDub Side of the Mule deserves its release in recognition of Gov’t Mule’s twenty-year anniversary in 2014. Their New Year’s 2006 appearance at the Beacon Theatre within this complete package of three CDs plus a DVD stands a turning point in their career because, in contrast to previous appearances at the Broadway venue , a litany of guests morphed into a theme show the likes of which the group has continued ever since.

In addition, having worked as a quartet since 2004 with the permanent addition of keyboardist Danny Louis along with bassist Andy Hess (once a member of John Scofield’s Uberjam Band), Gov’t Mule was making a quantum leap in broadening their repertoire with more outside material than ever, extending their grasp of blues, rock, country and jazz, in such a way it nurtured the honing of their improvisational skills.

The initial set, in fact, stands as a template for Gov’t Mule live at this juncture of their career. It’s not long before the band stretches out, on “Thorazine Shuffle,” and the covers begin in short order too, with the Beatles’ “She Said She Said” seguing into “Tomorrow Never Knows.” On “Whiter Shade of Pale,” , Warren Haynes forsakes his usually guttural singing style to suit the stately Procol Harum tune, while the Rolling Stones’ “Play with Fire” presages not only the set with the reggae icon Toots Hibbert later in the evening, but the Mule’s 2007 excursion in the Jamaican genre, Mighty High.

Those exercises in style would be an expansion of Haynes’ approach to composing and arranging, examples of which here include not only his own “Unring the Bell,” but the fully-realized and welcome reworking of the Mule staple titled “Reggae Soulshine”. Additional guests in the evening’s finale introduce even more diverse cover material: Gregg Allman and Friends (curiously absent from an otherwise comprehensive array of photos in the enclose booklet) appear on a rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like A Woman,” almost spiritual in its heavy emphasis on Hammond organ, while Blues Traveler’s John Popper appears on the Bob Seger System’s “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man.” The hosts reassert their own collective persona on (then recently-deceased )James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” then fully affirm their roots on the straight blues of Elmore James’ “It Hurts Me Too,” before riffing to a furious close with Tom Waits “Goin’ Out West.”

Gov’t Mule hardly gave short shrift to their own songs during these three sets, as originals ranging from the vintage likes of “Painted Silver Light” and “Dolphineus” (off their 1995 debut) appeared along with selections including “So Weak So Strong” from their 2006 studio album High and Mighty. The group attains an almost dizzying level of intensity on the instrumental from The Deep End Vol. 1 “Sco-Mule” as well. Yet the level of surprise that has always earmarked Gov’t Mule concerts becomes evident with two Otis Redding songs, “Hard to Handle” and “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember” as well as Al Green’s “I’m A Ram” and the R & B warhorse “Turn on Your Lovelight,” all of which feature both horns and backup vocalists that not only reaffirm the soul influences within reggae music, but also add authenticity to the sound.

Remastered for both on video and 5.1 surround audio (and not much less impressive in the high quality sound on the CDs), the video captures the palpable delight apparent in the body language and countenances of all involved, as well as a stage fully ornamented for the ‘punky reggae party” introduced by guest guitarist (and then Gov’t Mule record producer Gordie Johnson). While the loose rhythmic vamps aren’t exactly galvanizing as Hibbert sits in, they’re certainly in keeping with the celebratory air. Almost precisely in the middle of the set, Radiohead’s “Let Down” appears, which is a as emphatic a statement in itself of Gov’t Mule’s eclecticism, not to mention the simpatico with their guests, as Dub Side of the Mule constitutes as a whole.

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