I’m tempted to call Gov’t Mule one of my guilty pleasures. The thing is, there is really nothing to feel guilty about. Their last album, High and Mighty (2006), was my favorite hard rock album of that year, and the new one, By a Thread (Evil Teen Records), is likely to hold the same position this year. While it’s true that I don’t listen to a lot of this kind of music, I know what’s good when I hear it. It comes down to my long-held belief that no matter what genre music may belong to, it all comes down to the songs. These songs, written for the most part of band leader Warren Haynes, occasionally in collaboration with other band members, are expertly crafted, and played with passion and conviction.
Haynes, who has a day job as lead guitarist in the Allman Brothers Band, is one of the best old school rock and roll guitar players working these days, and he’s ably assisted by drummer Matt Abts and keyboardist/rhythm guitar player Danny Louis. For this album, the band welcomes Jorgen Carlsson, the first permanent bass player they’ve had since the death of founding member Allen Woody in 2000. The sound they make blends ’60s and ’70s power trio influences. I hear a lot of Bridge of Sighs-era Robin Trower in their music, and that was an era I liked very much. It’s particularly evident on the song “Monday Mourning Meltdown.” There’s also requisite but right southern rock, biker-bar blues, and even some psychedelia in the mix on the extended jam “Inside Outside Woman Blues #3.” What really sets Gov’t Mule apart, though, is that they bring more melody to the table than most bands in the hard rock arena. They demonstrate this capability on songs like “Forevermore” and “Frozen Fear.”
Haynes is determined to keep Gov’t Mule moving forward, though he admits that for this album they were finally ready to take a look back at their past, which they weren’t comfortable doing in the wake of Woody’s death. None of the songs were written until they got to Willie Nelson’s Pedernales Studio in the Texas hill country to record By a Thread. That can put a lot of pressure on a band, but in this case it worked out very well. This is another very strong effort from one of America’s hardest working bands.