High & Mighty
Since the demise of partner-in-crime/in-the-pocket bassist Allen Woody, maverick guitarist/vocalist Warren Haynes has practically made it his life’s mission to become the world’s busiest and most in-demand musician. Yet, somehow between his commitments to the Allman Brothers Band, the on-again/off-again Dead, and any number of one-off jams and recording sessions, Haynes still pours his heart and soul into the simple, hard-rockin’ band he and Woody founded: Govt. Mule. Haynes and drummer Matt Abts quickly regrouped the Mule after Woody passed away, first assembling an all-star roster of bassists in tribute to their fallen brother, resulting in two CDs and a documentary directed by Phish bassist Mike Gordon. Now, with a four-piece lineup that includes bassist Andy Hess and keyboard player Danny Louis, the realigned Mule has released a follow-up to 2004’s Déjà Voodoo with the muscular, sassy title of High & Mighty.
Govt. Mule rates as one of the premiere jam bands on the scene, but with High & Mighty they’ve upped the ante with some exceptionally solid songwriting. Not that Haynes has ever had a problem in that department — the anthem-like “Soulshine,” a fan favorite recorded by the Allmans in 1994, clearly demonstrates the guitarist is more than capable of turning a simple lick into a memorable and meaningful melody. No sooner does the Mule roar into gear on “Mr. High & Mighty” and “Brand New Angel,” the first two cuts on the CD, then Haynes gracefully strums through “So Weak, So Strong,” a weepy little number that had my arms flailing in perfect unison with the woeful lemmings of pomp and circumstance haunting concert halls nationwide.
High & Mighty continues on its merry path, bearing few surprises and fewer disappointments for the initiated. “Streamline Woman” is a streamline rocker that segues squarely into “Child Of The Earth,” a bluesy beauty of unparalleled dimension. “Unring The Bell,” a reggae samba number, draws from Haynes ever rich palette of stylistic diversions, however nimble. Still, one shouldn’t grow too comfortable during the mellow meanderings of “Nothing Again” and “Million Miles From Yesterday,” as they give way the swampy slide on “Brighter Days,” abruptly cut short by the bluster of “Endless Parade.” Produced by Haynes and Gordie Johnson (former leader of Canada's Big Sugar), High & Mighty embraces a myriad of musical idioms, from blues and reggae to soul and jazz. And while they're not taking any big risks, musically speaking, the groove and chemistry between the four band members is tight and unshakeable. By and large, this one could be the beginning of bigger and better things arising from the world of Govt. Mule.
~ Shawn Perry