Southern Swagger

Gov’t Mule’s Take-No-Prisoners Rock ’n’ Roll

by Alison Meeder

Gov%27t-Mule.jpgOn October 8, Gov’t Mule brings their soulful, southern rock jams to the Arlington Theatre. Led by guitar player and vocalist Warren Haynes, the band has been crafting its classic sound for more than 10 years, and according to the seasoned front man, should be going strong for decades to come.

Haynes, 46, began playing guitar at the age of 12 and started working nightclubs and private parties at 14. In the early 1980s, he became the touring guitarist for country music outlaw David Allen Coe, and later joined the Allman Brothers Band to replace the departed Duane Allman. In August 2003, Rolling Stone listed Haynes at number 23 on its list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. “I was very flattered,” Haynes told me by phone. “When they called to let me know I was on the list I assumed I’d be number 100, so it was a nice surprise.”

Gov’t Mule was formed in 1994 as a side project made up of Haynes, drummer Matt Abts, and Allman Brothers bassist Allen Woody. After Woody’s death in August 2000, it was decided after much consideration that the band would go on without the founding member. An expanded lineup was assembled including Andy Hess on bass and Danny Lewis on keyboards. The new four-piece has since released 2004’s Déjà Voodoo and this year’s High and Mighty. Billboard Magazine cited the new release as “a quantum leap for the band,” and Haynes readily agrees. “You can really hear the growth over the past two years on this record. I’m very proud,” he said.

Growth isn’t the only thing to be heard. In a word, High and Mighty’s sound is big. Described by Haynes as being for “fans of real music only,” the album brings flawless psychedelic rock with a fearless swagger. Guitars soar and crackle with a deep, dark electricity. At different turns, vocals reveal unmasked fear, love, and anger. The feeling is grand southern rock through and through, and listening gives the impression of a smoldering live performance.

The live sound is no accident. The album was recorded with all four Mule members playing together in one small room. In the age of Pro Tools, this type of old-school process is nearly obsolete. For Mule, however, the method came naturally. “We’re all career musicians,” said Haynes “and we take a jazz approach when working with one another. One person can improvise in the moment. We know how to communicate with one another.”

High and Mighty is marked throughout by themes of adversity and inner conflict. The album touches on political dissension, but is often more critical of society as a whole than of specific political figures. One track in particular, “Like Flies,” tackles the concept of instant notoriety. Haynes has little patience with the MTV generation and the idea of reality TV as a career launchpad. “We have a generation of people willing to compromise their integrity in order to become famous. Art has become less important than ever in this country,” he said. “I come from a different generation where being a musician is a real career. I don’t want a band with a five-year life span. I want to be like John Lee Hooker. I still want to be doing this thing when I’m 82.”

4•1•1 Gov’t Mule will perform with Donavon Frankenreiter on Sunday, October 8 at the Arlington Theatre. Tickets are $22-$31. Call 583-8700.

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