Everyone knows the story by now. Government Mule(and former Allman Brother) bassist Allen Woody passed away a couple years back, and the band paid tribute by releasing a couple of CDs that featured guests bassists, many who were Woody’s favorites and influences. Well, now that they’ve wrapped up the search for a new bassist, they’ve put out this sprawling live set that features a lot of those players. By sprawling, I mean, this one has 2 CDs full of music, and a DVD that runs over 3 hours. It was all recorded last May in New Orleans And, it’s a treat for music fans in general, but especially Mule fans.
The driving force behind this band is, of course, guitarist Warren Haynes. Haynes is a magnificent player who seems to span pretty much every genre of music without missing a beat. Whether doing a version of the Black Sabbath classic “Sweet Leaf” with Jason Newsted on bass, or a wonderful “John the Revelator” with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, he seems right at home. His encyclopedic knowledge is also amazing. He actually fills time(read the liner notes for the explanation on that one) by doing a splendid solo version of the Eagles’ “Wasted Time.” There’s funky jazz(“Sco-Mule”), wonderful southern soul (“Soulshine”), goofy Zappa-style rock (“Greasy Granny’s Gopher Gravy,” with Les Claypool), and lots of rock in-between.
It’s pretty obvious the Mule has plenty of friends in the music biz. Bassists who take part here include Jack Casady, Claypool, Roger Glover, Paul Jackson, Will Lee, Conrad Lozano, George Porter, Jr., Rob Wasserman, Victor Wooten, Greg Rzab, Newsted, and Dave Schools. Not a bad batch of anchors, huh? The variety of players and styles gives you a hint of the variety of music contained in this package.
Support players also show up as guests, including Bela Fleck on banjo, Bernie Worrell on keyboards, Ivan Neville on keyboards, Fred Wesley on trombone, and David Hidalgo and Sonny Landreth on guitars.
The amazing thing is, with Haynes and drummer Matt Abts anchoring things for upwards of five hours, there is never a lull or a down moment. And, almost all the music works. Yes, there’s a tendency for things to get a little, for lack of a better word, heavy where Gov’t Mule is concerned. I’ve always thought their albums would, on occasion, get bogged down by seriousness, both with droning, minor-key music, and a certain pretentiousness to the lyrics, and that happens here. But it only intrudes on occasion, and doesn’t get in the way of some great musicianship.
Mule fans will have to have this. The sound is great. The DVD contains great shots and is done very nicely and includes pretty much all the guests included above. Not sure what this will retail for, but it’s a fine addition to a good band’s library.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Feb. ’04 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.