Record Review - 3 September 23 2004

After spending what seemed like an interminable but prolific period mourning its fallen co-founding bassist, Allen Woody, on the Deep End project (three double CDs and two DVDs), the Mule has finally released an album of original material, the first since 2000.

Not only does it herald the arrival of new permanent bass player Andy Hess, but the once-proud power trio has expanded into a quartet with the addition of keyboardist Danny Louis. Both are talented and eclectic musicians who help diversify, but not dilute, Mule’s established, bluesy hard rock.

The keyboard textures fortify and sometimes temper the sound, pushing the band in a slightly more prog-tinged direction as on the 11-minute, Pink Floyd-styled “Silent Scream.” Yet guitarist/singer/primary songwriter Warren Haynes still rides this Mule into its by-now patented Blue Oyster Cult-meets-Drive-By Truckers territory. His ’70s-fueled, riff-heavy approach and gruff voice stomps all over tight, prickly crunchers such as “Lola Leave Your Light On” and the opening “Bad Man Walking.”

Haynes, who’s a one-man cottage industry with guest stints for the Dead and his other full-time gig in the Allman Brothers Band, might be spreading himself too thin. These tunes don’t boast particularly memorable melodies, and some sound just like others in his catalog. But all isn’t lost. The band supports him with a tough, bluesy confidence, energizing even the most bloated material. Gov’t Mule isn’t terribly graceful, but through perseverance, it gets the job done.

-- Hal Horowitz