For their 12th studio album, Gov’t Mule has decided to tackle the origins of everything that underlies all modern music, namely the blues. And in fact, it is a blues record which draws from a consortium of original compositions of the band and unique renderings of classic blues music by the likes of Junior Wells, Elmore James, Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, Tom Waites and many more. Recorded with analogue technique and produced by the leader of the band, Warren Haynes.
The Blues Form, ever present in Gov’t Mule’s music is front and center here. Complete with the requisite 12 bar chord progressions, trance-like walking bass, harmonica and Hammond organ. The rhythm section plays rock solid from first hearing, and lays down a tripping groundwork that pulls at your soul.
The mesmerizing “Blues Before Sunrise” has been covered by just about every bluesman since the 1930’s. This interpretation has an original Honky Tonk flair and extensive use of slide guitar and harmonica. It pays careful tribute to the past while forging its own new ground. The subsequent “Hole In My Soul” continues with a Hammond organ, strings and horns, leaning towards a more “slow-burn” Rhythm & Blues feel. The influences of the Allman Brothers on Haynes are very clear here. His vocals are strongly reminiscent of Gregg Allman. The same influences can be felt on “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City” and the gnarly “Make it Rain”.
The Junior Wells cover “Snatch It Back And Hold It Back” is a great duel between Haynes and keyboardist Danny Louis (this time on organ). I enjoyed the urban style Chicago Blues feel to this track.
Ain’t No love In The Heart Of The City ”, originally recorded by the bluesman Bobby Bland and made famous by Whitesnake’s version, is brought back to its original roots, deservedly to become a new classic.
A more funky soul emerges in the reinterpretation of “Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home“. The original “If Heartaches Were Nickels” is a poignant masterpiece. It crawled under my skin and just left me slowly nodding in agreement. The version of “I Asked For Water (She She Gave Me Gasoline)” by Howlin Wolf, is turned into a virtuoso piece, full of solo runs and skillful jams.
“Heavy Load” and “Hiding Place” stands out, the former with its deliberate blues pickin’ and the latter with its extraordinary slide solos, are tunes that you should appreciate for the eras that they represent.
Other standout tracks include a remake of “You Know My Love” by Willie Dixon ,” Street Corner Talking” by Savoy Brown (a sign that British Blues have not been overlooked), “Long Distance Call” by Muddy Waters and Sonny Boy Williamson’s classic “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl“.
If you have any interest in the Blues, or just want to broaden your musical horizons, then I highly recommend Heavy Loaded Blues by Gov’t Mule. This album is loaded with musical maturity and the knowledge that the roots of all current and past music have origins in the Blues.
Warren Haynes himself vehemently states: “It’s not blues rock, it’s a blues record.” What a Blues record it is!