By Kerry Heffernan
Gov't Mule is a side project experiment that seems to have gone terribly right. Although some loyal music followers just can't seem to get on board with them, the band has managed to build a legion of fans. Jambands.com actually listed the band as a choice to the poll question, "Which of these bands do you really enjoy even though your friends don't quite get it (and frankly give you a bit of grief for your musical taste)?" Gov't Mule's popularity was developed partially from intensely grueling touring schedules, but mostly because of the reputation that began to swirl about their talent; these guys can play. Constantly touted as a "southern rock band," it would be easy to typecast Gov't Mule as only that. However, with one listen to the band's latest studio effort, High and Mighty, it becomes blindingly obvious that southern rocking is just the beginning.
True to the band's roots, the entire album does reek of southern rock flair - think Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers, and tiny fragments of The Doobie Brothers thrown in for good measure. But there's so much more going on here than straight-up, good ole' boy rockin'. Gov't Mule pulls out all of the stops with this record and borrows some ingeniously utilized cues from many different musical styles.
In the album's powerful title track, "High and Mighty," the quartet takes a lesson from the glam-rock metal bands of the '80s. The song begins with the genre's quintessential hammering guitar riff and definitive drum line. But Mule doesn't diverge too far from their personal zone as the song, embedded with blues feels, moves to more of a 'sleaze metal' style rather than the Van Halen-esque, hair music of the decade. The pattern then falls into an all-out raucous, dissonance-filled momentum that begins to tease along the lines of a Black Sabbath tune. But just as you think that the band has lost all direction, the cheerful sound of the organ comes creeping in from the background, lightening the mood and pulling the song back to comfortably familiar Gov't Mule territory. Perhaps the biggest diversion from the southern jamming that is Gov't Mule comes from the song "Unring the Bell." The rhythm guitar plays the choppy notes on the backbeat that are characteristically prevalent in almost every reggae song known to man. Socially conscious lyrics flow through the chords - another defining characteristic of roots reggae - and the authoritative drum beat only adds to the nostalgic island feel of the tune. A breakdown occurs in the melody and is replaced by a phenomenal staccato keys solo, further complementing the Rasta vibe. The style is developed so completely that you almost forget that this is a rock album. A final example of the true eclectic musicianship of this band comes from the last song of the collection, "Endless Parade." The blues call-and-response pattern is alive and well here. With harmonic progressions and a strong, walking bass line, the groove of the blues takes shape. A constant light tap on the high-hat far in the distance creates a slightly jazzy ambience, allowing the song to come around full circle.
But "full circle" doesn't just describe one song; it is what this entire album is really all about. This band has the ability to pull influences from across the gamut, yet still remain true to their roots. No matter what form is being utilized, the undeniable southern charm drenches each and every song. The band's ability to create beautiful, ballad-worthy lyrics in songs like "So Weak, So Strong" and "Child of the Earth" proves that they are more than a band who can blow the roof off the building with massive guitar solos and unrestrained improvisations. Their music has depth and intricacies that are only getting stronger with each concert played. This album is Gov't Mule at their best - finally sitting high and mighty.
JamBase | Worldwide
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