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The Boston Phoenix Psycheblues

Gov't Mule don't mess with the fat.

By Ted Drozdowski

MARCH 9, 1998:  Big, bad-ass blues rock. Nobody's got the nuts to play it nowadays. Not in a pop world where it's more important to sound alternative or ironic or electronic than good. Certainly not at the high-stakes level, where everybody's so worried about the next big thing that yesterday's music -- let alone 1968's -- is absolutely forgotten.

By everyone but the people who loved it. And the members of Gov't Mule.

Gov't Mule wallow in unabashed '60s blues rock: blustery music that's loud, raw, and drenched in THC-soaked guitar effects that were birthed during the psychedelic heyday of the power trio. Guitarist Warren Haynes and bassist Allen Woody -- both Former Allman Bros. members -- and Matt Abts on drums brew up a glorious shitstorm when they take the stage, their long, stringy hair and biker looks telegraphing that something delightfully outside this era is about to come on strong.

Gov't Mule will play at Mama Kin this Saturday, on the heels of the release of their third album, Dose (Capricorn). Which must be played loud. From the tilted heavy-butt shuffle of the opening "Blind Man in the Dark" through a spooky-sparse turn on the Son House-immortalized "John the Revelator" to the closing ballad of affirmation, "I Shall Return," the damn thing rocks like a mother. Haynes is a gifted slide player and old-fashioned tonemonger, pulling the fattest, sweetest roar from his amps since the salad days of Blodwyn Pig. He also sings like a junkyard dog, barking out lyrics about cosmology, love, and weirdness in a rabid snarl or warm, world-weary growl. Woody's bass pumps the melody lines and chord changes, racing into space with Haynes. And Abts is pure rocket fuel: driving, pushing, tugging, and blasting Gov't Mule into free flights of wild-eyed jamming.

It's the kind of great music you'd swear had died: virtuosity in the service of inspired rawboned rock. Allen and Haynes had thought it was dead too. "Woody and I were riding down the highway on the Allman Bros.' tour bus about four years ago," says Haynes, "and we were listening to Band of Gypsys or Cream or the Hendrix Experience, or one of those power trios, and talking about how nobody does that anymore. Woody said, 'Me and you and the right drummer could do that.' And I said, 'Me and you and Matt Abts.' "

So Gov't Mule were born, and in '95 their homonymous debut was released on Relativity. Touring followed and a groundswell of club-level support carried the band through '96's self-released Live at Roseland Ballroom. Things got so good that last April Woody and Haynes left the Allman Bros. to take the Mule into the field full time. The title of Dose refers both to the fact that this is Gov't Mule's second studio CD and to the music's acid-drenched character.

Haynes says much of the album's high-flying nature is the result of recording live, with hardly an overdub save for the vocals. "We set up in the studio like we do on stage, which is more what we're used to. That encourages something adventurous, more improvising. Since every take is different, we try to keep the one complete take that has some magic about it. If there's two guitars, it means I overdubbed the rhythm. But we leave all the rough edges in."

That's an act of rebellion -- not only against over-polished production but against Haynes's own past. Before joining the Allman Bros. in '89, and the Dickey Betts Band two years before that, the guitarist was a Nashville studio musician. "By the time I got the hang of it, I realized it wasn't what I wanted to do. I found myself doing a lot of studio work that wasn't rewarding. It was good experience but it didn't suit me."

What suits him is roaring around stages with a pigpile of super-loud amplifiers at his back, spinning a psychedelic swirl from his Les Paul guitar's fretboard. As deft a surrogate brother Duane as he was with the Allmans, it's in Gov't Mule that Haynes is able to let his freak flag fly. That's how Jimi would have put it. And why the band's fans come to -- as Haynes puts it -- "get a dose of the Mule."

"Our music is more like a lot of music from the past," he allows. "It's not all on the surface. The more you listen to it, the more you get from it.

"The problem is that pop music has redesigned itself so many times that the fat's been trimmed down to the point where there's no meat left. We give you plenty of meat . . . with all the fat and the rough edges."

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