Thursday, January 21, 2010

Gov't Mule

My feature on Gov't Mule appears in this week's Charleston City Paper.

Gov't Mule kicks its own style of Southern rock

More than a thread

Warren Haynes follows closely in the footsteps of his blues-rock forefathers. From his appearance — long, dirty blond hair, scraggly gray goatee, man-in-black wardrobe — to his litany of influences, including B.B. King, Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix, Haynes has made a name for himself as one of the world's best guitarists.

Not bad for someone who went from being a kid in Asheville, N.C., to a starring role in the Allman Brothers Band and forming Gov't Mule, his own award-winning Southern rock band.

Thanks to the release of a new Gov't Mule album and a massive international tour schedule, Haynes won't lose any momentum in 2010. Fans spent three years anxiously awaiting the rock quartet's eighth studio album, By A Thread (Evil Teen), which was recorded at Willie Nelson's Pedernales Studio in Texas Hill, and released in late 2009. The 11-song collection immediately earned critical acclaim. The accolades were nice, but they're simply an affirmation of a career that's spanned over 30 years.

"It feels like we're moving forward and backward at the same time," Haynes said in a recent press release. "Hardcore fans tend to not want us to move too far away from where we started, but the band never wants to stay in one place for very long."

Haynes was just 20 years old when he began playing guitar with country singer-songwriter David Allan Coe. He spent four years touring the world, and played on nine of Coe's albums. An opening slot for the '70s-era rock legends, the reunited Allman Brothers Band, introduced Haynes to lead guitarist Dickey Betts. Haynes and his friend, bassist Allen Woody joined the band in 1989, coinciding with its 20th anniversary.

In 1994, Haynes and Woody formed their own project, Gov't Mule, with drummer Matt Abts, dedicated to recreating the riffy magic of power trios like Cream, ZZ Top, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience, releasing their debut a year later.

After straddling both projects for three years, Haynes and Woody left the Allman Brothers Band behind to focus on Gov't Mule full-time, but they had just three years together when Woody died of an overdose in 2000, putting Gov't on a temporary hiatus. Haynes rejoined the Allmans in 2001.

The current lineup includes multi-instrumentalist Danny Lois and bassist Jorgen Carlsson.

For the last nine years, Haynes has juggled both groups, (with touring stints on guitar and vocals in The Dead). Recently his style of music has found new relevance, and a new audience.

By A Thread has been lauded as the band's best album since Woody's death. Haynes' voice alternates between a warm, gruff purr and a sexy, snarling growl. The album's opening track, "Broke Down On The Brazos" starts out hard and dirty, grinding the blues from its guitars' strings. It's a great contrast from the slightly psychedelic and bleak "Monday Mourning Meltdown." Even on a potential misstep like "Frozen Fear," which borders on cheesy with its '80s-era soulful saxophone wail, it's impossible to deny the skillful musicianship which pulls the track back from the cheddar brink. It's the sort of trick that only a true guitar hero knows.

Indie twists on Haynes' blues-driven Southern rock, like the Kings of Leon and The Drive-By Truckers, have found major mainstream success, inspiring younger audiences to seek out its pioneers. Gov't Mule's ability to bridge a generation gap isn't surprising: they're one of the few bands to encourage audiences to bring in their video cameras and recording equipment and tape the shows. Mule makes the songs available for purchase and download from their official website. Gov't Mule's presence online, from YouTube to MySpace to Twitter, is consistent with their forward-thinking approach, without sacrificing any of the sound that Haynes has so carefully cultivated over the last three decades.

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