Gov’t Mule has never made a record that sounded more like a Warren Haynes solo album than it previous studio work, By A Thread. In contrast, the band’s debut on Blue Note Records, Shout!, is a seamless piece reminiscent of their best work on stage and in the studio.
In fact, The Mule almost deliberately begs for such comparisons with guitar figures the likes of which acts as a refrain for “World Boss.” Lifted directly from “Bad Little Doggie, ” the electric lick sets a hard rock tone for Shout! that, while it still reflects the band’s grasp of dynamics, nevertheless maintains a vicious edge. On tracks such as “No Reward,” the corrosive edge of Haynes’ guitar alternates with the pummeling Matt Abts gives his drums.
Meanwhile bassist Jorgen Carlsson, at whose studio this recording was initiated, continues to refine his personal style of playing, utilizing a jabbing attack that might well leave keyboardist/vocalist Danny Louis in the din here if he hadn’t learned to use his organ and piano so astutely to fill the spaces left by the other three instruments. Louis excels when the volume descends on cuts like “Captured” and, in fact, it’s his nimble playing, combined with of Carlsson’s agility that distinguishes this lineup of Gov’t Mule.
Shout! Has its share of color, in the form of cuts such as a diamond-hard ballad called “Scared to Live,” where Haynes’ solo guitar, sans the effects he often employs with his rhythm work, echoes the intelligence of the lyrics. An extended instrumental coda artfully amplifies the mood of the words, illustrating how The Mule so skillfully bring the spontaneous air of their live performances to the recording studio.
It’s the consistent roadwork that’s bonded this lineup though, so that tunes like the reggae-inflected “Stoop So Low” become more than just a repetitive groove as the four musicians interact. Along with the lithe “Forsaken Savior,” this number illustrates how on Shout!, Gov’t Mule recapitulates its strengths without repeating itself. That statement of purpose, implicit throughout these eleven tracks, may be the source of the idea to invite a diversity of vocalists to help create what amounts to an alternate version of the album.
On the second disc, the instrumental tracks, all of which feature a different singer, are sequenced slightly differently, to varying effect. “Whisper in Your Soul,” featuring Grace Potter, sounds generic and if you’re not listening for Dave Matthews, his turn on “Forsaken Savior” will pass without notice. In contrast, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James brings his openness and vulnerability to “Captured,” while Steve Winwood imbues “When the World Gets Small” with passionate soul, both cuts imparting the sense they were arranged with those individual singers in mind.
So while, Ben Harper, Dr. John and Elvis Costello also guest on respective tracks of Shout! Disc 2, the two superior sit-ins would in and of themselves constitute sufficiently novel marketing for this new Gov’t Mule, precisely because the work of the band itself stands strong on its own terms.
Both versions of Bring On The Music rock this album. A real winner with nary a miss.