In the world of Gov't Mule, big is best. It's attitude that serves Gov't Mule well on their ATO Records release, High & Mighty. Big riffs, massive grooves, and expansive improvisations are the hallmarks of the band's legendary live shows. Likewise, these twelve songs feature larger-than-life characters bearing life's heaviest burdens, performed by four mighty musicians guitar/vocalist Warren Hayes, drummer Matt Abts, keyboardist Danny Louis, and bassist Andy Hess whose powerful musicianship and tireless work ethic have earned them the respect of their peers, fans and critics alike. High & Mighty was produced by Haynes and Gordie Johnson, former leader of Canada's acclaimed Big Sugar, and was recorded at Willie Nelson's famed Pedernales Studio.
It's invigorating to hear such a wide disparity between the music of Gov't Mule and the trusty blues/Southern rock of guitarist Warren Haynes's other full-time project, the Allman Brothers Band. Rooted firmly in the '70s riff-based power assault of bands such as Free, Mountain, and Humble Pie, with Haynes's gruff yet soulful vocals front and center, the Mule plow through 72 minutes of meat-and-potatoes, tougher-than-leather rock with the determination of their ornery moniker. The opening thump of "Mr. High & Mighty" will quickly separate the men from the boys as the band charges into one of their most potent and pointed tracks, helped enormously by Danny Louris's sinister organ fills. The disc continues with muscular material such as "Like Flies," "Streamline Woman," and the cowbell-driven "Brand-New Angel," that keep the thudding-guitar-and-drums attack at a high boil. Haynes borrows a page from Allmans co-lead guitarist Derek Trucks in the slide-powered worldbeat intro to "Brighter Days," but then it's back to business as the song transforms into a Jeff Beck Group-styled pile-driving scorcher. Things simmer down slightly for the sinuous reggae of "Unring the Bell," a few brawny ballads like "Child of the Earth," and the closing funk of the album's only instrumental, "3-String George," on which the Mule tap into an entirely credible Booker T. & the MG's vibe. The average tune is over five minutes, with the lovely yet cautionary "Endless Parade" clocking in at nearly twice that, but don't look for winding jams here. Rather, Gov't Mule have crafted their most dense and representative album yet, filled with steely licks and explosive melodies you'll be playing air guitar to after the first listen. --Hal Horowitz