Multifaceted is the word that comes to mind to define the talent and career of guitarist and singer Warren Haynes. Haynes, 61, is often described as “the hardest working man in southern American rock music.” With good reason, due to his incredibly frantic touring schedules and his impressive ability to not only blend into different bands but also become the central guitar hero in whatever outfit he performs in.
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Since the early 1980s, when he began his career, Haynes has performed with several groups, including, among others, the legendary Allman Brothers Band; the Dave Matthews Band; and the Derek Trucks Band. But especially with his own band, Gov’t Mule, which he formed with the late bassist Allen Woody in 1994, as a sort of side project of the Allman Brothers Band. The group, a quartet, now includes Haynes on guitar and much of the vocals; Matt Abts on drums; Danny Louis on keyboards; and Jorgen Carlsson on bass. Since their formation, Mule (as the band is known to its fans) has released over 25 albums of studio or live recordings.
It’s nothing. Mule plays hundreds of concerts every year and you can stream or download over 550 of them from one website (Concertarchives.org). In addition to the albums they are officially releasing, almost all of Mule’s shows are released digitally and offered for sale to their fans, nicknamed Muleheads. And while Gov’t Mule’s albums and songs rarely make it to the charts, their fans are die-hard followers, flocking to their shows and even, in a habit reminiscent of Grateful Dead fans, following the show band. performing on a traveling itinerary.
The core base of Haynes and Gov’t Mule is in the genre known as Southern Rock, which originated in the early 1970s and was defined by the music of the Allman Brothers Band. While rock ‘n’ roll, blues, and country music are all genres that southern rock emanates from, it is characterized by main (and long) electric guitar riffs and a vocal style often marked by a southern accent. Mule, the most famous representatives of the genre, carry on the legacy of southern rock.
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So it came as a surprise when Mule released what must be his first blues album last month. Heavy load blues is the closest to a pure blues album they have ever recorded. The 13 songs it contains include covers of classic blues songs as well as originals written by Haynes.
Among the songs covered by the band are tunes written by blues greats such as Elmore James, Howlin ‘Wolf, Kathleen Brennan, Tom Waits and Al Jackson Jr. The mood is set from the start. The opening of the album, Blues before sunrise, written by Elmore James, who died aged 45 in 1963, is scorching, drenched in slide guitar and keyboard riffs and Haynes’ altered voice. Mule follows this with a Haynes composition, Hole in my soul a song about lost love, a familiar blues theme. Then comes Wake up dead, a song composed by Haynes and his band mates Abts and Carlsson, which opens with a groovy organ riff, setting the tone for the lead guitar and punchy basslines.
Heavy load blues is a studio album but it looks like a live performance. This is because the band recorded it live in a small studio on analog material, which gives it an immediacy and rawness. â€œHeavy loadâ€ is an apt expression to describe the new version of Mule. While the band’s music has always taken a hat off to the genre, it has always had a southern blues rock feel more like a jam band. But on Heavy load blues, it is the raw and heavy blues which is the center of attention.
For example, in their interpretation of Howlin ‘Wolf’s I asked for water (she gave me gasoline), they do a very funky version of the original, which was simply titled I asked for water. Wolf’s version, recorded in the 1950s, was dark and menacing with his unmistakable voice. Mule riffs on that, but their version is faster, more garish, wilder, and, well, quite different. In an interview with Houston Press last month, Waynes said, â€œI’m a huge fan of Howlin ‘Wolf, and it’s one of the darkest and heaviest blues recordings of all time. Just think of that release in 1956, it must have scared people to death. The original version was like what Black Sabbath would be like in the 70s! Just disturbing and scary. I didn’t want to do it that way, but still get the grain and dark undertones.
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With Heavy load blues, Mule dove deep into the genre, but also gave a contemporary twist to the old tunes of revered blues musicians. Mules are best heard live. Some of their best albums are live, albums like the one from 1999 Live … with a little help from our friends or the years 2003 The deepest end, in concert are classic examples of their sound. Their concerts are rock extravagances where they explore genres as diverse as reggae, soul or hard and heavy rock without compromise. Mule’s live performances can also be messy and the music fierce. Songs can last up to 15 minutes or more and the audience is usually loud.
So it’s no surprise that when Haynes and his bandmates decided to make a blues album, they not only delved into the genre to explore its roots and pay homage to greats from the past, but also decided to show what the blues really means to Gov ‘t Mule. The result is an essential album for any blues lover.
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