GOV’T MULE – Heavy Load Blues (2021)
Those who are acquainted with GOV’T MULE’s live performances already know they are one of the best Classic Rock / Hard acts there. Also that the blues were always a safe harbor in the Mule’s songs. So having an entire album dedicated to the genre is a decision that makes plain sense.
GOV’T MULE’s new album title – ”Heavy Load Blues”, speaks for itself.
Grammy-winning bandleader Warren Haynes is a vocalist, songwriter, guitar legend, and producer for the ages and steers the Mule in the soulful and artistic way he always has, which makes ”Heavy Load Blues” a profound experience from start to finish.
Alongside some new Haynes-written cuts, ”Heavy Load Blues” features covers of timeless blues performers including Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James, Junior Wells, Ann Peebles, and Bobby “Blue” Bland, and of blues-influenced stars Tom Waits and the Animals.
Haynes, Matt Abts (drums), Danny Louis (keyboards, guitar, and backing vocals), and Jorgen Carlsson (bass) tracked ”Heavy Load Blues” at The Power Station New England live off the floor to analog tape using a back line of righteous vintage gear. Haynes and John Paterno (Michael Landau, Robbie Williams) co-produced the 13 songs on the record and did fine work capturing the essential spirits of both the band and the material.
Heavy Load Blues jumps off with an inspired take on Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell’s 1934 jam “Blues Before Sunrise.” It’s a perfect traditional shuffle done with a Chicago inflection and a load of sweet slide guitar. It’s everything we want the blues to be and one listen will guarantee that you spin the rest of the record in a single sitting. Haynes’ guitar tone is thick and dirty to the point where you can almost hear his tubes glowing.
“Hole In My Soul” is a simmering slow blues cut full of the pain of real heartbreak. Horn and organ parts add to the track’s impact, as do Haynes’ restrained, expressive vocal and guitar stylings. No one in the band overplays or ruins the tune’s emotion and, as a result, this one hits dead on-target.
“Snatch It Back and Hold It,” written by the late, great Junior Wells, gets a cool and energetic workout that includes a spontaneous funk jam called “Hold It Back” in the middle, which makes for a nice gear shift. This is Gov’t Mule at its best, flowing freely and displaying the old-school core of the group at the same time.
Tom Waits’ moody “Make It Rain” is practically a cinematic interlude, a vibe that usually accompanies covering anything by the experimental California songwriter. Waits writes music that exists in its own dramatic world but also allows like-minded glitterati like Gov’t Mule to redecorate the place as they see fit. Haynes steps into Waits’ lyrical persona like a heavyweight champ and their shared admiration for Howlin’ Wolf binds the two men together.
Speaking of Wolf, his classic “I Asked Her For Water, She Gave Me Gasoline” gets its boundaries pushed by the Mule and comes out as a heavy funk number that’s miles away from the original. Keyboardist Danny Louis goes hard here, riffing inventively while also providing atmospheric backup for Haynes’ guitar excursions. Haynes’ plaintive, soaring lead vocals complete the magic.
Other tracks of note include “I Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home” and the closer “Black Horizon.”
Gov’t Mule has a definite winner in ”Heavy Load Blues”, one that feels like an organic extension of the group’s already-monstrous body of work. Crank it up and you’ll be warm all winter.
01 – Blues Before Sunrise
02 – Hole In My Soul
03 – Wake Up Dead
04 – Love Is A Mean Old World
05 – Snatch It Back And Hold It…
06 – Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City
07 – (Brother Bill) Last Clean Shirt
08 – Make It Rain
09 – Heavy Load
10 – Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home
11 – If Heartaches Were Nickels
12 – I Asked For Water (She Gave Me Gasoline)
13 – Black Horizon
Warren Haynes – guitars & vocals
Matt Abts – drums
Danny Louis – keyboards, guitar, background vocals
Jorgen Carlsson – bass