Conducted by GRAMMY® Award-winning singer, songwriter, producer and overall guitar legend Warren Haynes, celebrated foursome Gov’t Mule has gifted the world once again with their newest venture: a full blues album titled Heavy Load Blues, released on November 12th through Fantasy Records. The first ever head-to-toe blues album recorded by the band, Heavy Load Blues embraces a smooth and equal mix of Haynes’ original tunes, blended beautifully with revered covers originally brought to life by the likes of blues figureheads Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James, Ann Peebles and Bobby “Blue” Bland. As a fundamental and well-known representative of American music, Gov’t Mule have put themselves in a position of prominence few bands will ever see. It has allowed them the creative freedom to take calculated risks and embark on epic musical journeys, journeys that lead to impeccable destinations, like the destination discovered with Heavy Load Blues.
Crafting an album that is meant to seem timeless (as real-deal blues often does) is no simple task.
It almost requires you to go back in time in order to preserve the future. Being a music/recording/production nerd myself, one of my favorite things about this album is how it was recorded. These guys went old-school… totally back to basics. Although the album is technically considered a studio album, Haynes and the guys decided to make this record while playing live in the studio. No headphones, no monitors, just mixing themselves live based on how they heard each other out of the amps in the room. This adds a sense of intimate realness that isn’t as prominent these days in music as it once was. At The PowerStation in New England, the songs were also recorded to analog tape, utilizing vintage guitars, amp heads, bass rigs and other equipment meant to capture that authentic, true-to-form blues sound. Production credits for the 13-track album go to Haynes himself, alongside engineer and co-producer John Paterno.
Kicking the record off is “Blues Before Sunrise”, a song that leaves no doubt in the listener’s mind that this is a blues album through and through. Soulful guitar riffs that bring to mind Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters and Mr. B.B. King himself gets things rolling before a simplistic drum beat, steady bass line and fancy-fingered keys fill in the rest. It’s a decent opening track that is only the start of what’s to come. Moving down a couple tracks is the second single released for the album: Gov’t Mule’s take on the Junior Wells track “Snatch It Back And Hold It”. While covering this groovy number, the band found a way to squeeze in a spontaneous original jam called “Hold It Back” right in the middle of the track, creating a funky rendition of basically what the band does onstage.
“We had never played that middle section prior to recording it,” Haynes shares. “While we were working up ‘Snatch It Back’, we just ran through all the key sections and when we got to the instrumental part, we did a very brief talk through about how it might go. It was virtually a jam and, in that sense, it kind of referenced what we normally do onstage. We get an idea and run with it to see where it winds up. It never turns out exactly like you plan it, which is great, because if it is good, it’s usually better than it would have been had you planned it a certain way.”
Next up comes what is probably my favorite song on the album — a masterfully done interpretation of “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City”.
Joining a list that includes Black Pumas, White Snake and, of course, the originator Bobby “Blue” Bland, Gov’t Mule takes this song and puts their own unique spin on it. Utilizing Haynes’ skilled guitar playing and sultry, raspy vocals, along with a solid foundation of rhythm and organ wails, this classic single has been given new life and is sure to continue to live on for generations to come. When it comes to the second to last song on the album, the cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s song “I Asked For Water (She Gave Me Gasoline)”, Gov’t Mule — who have a habit of pushing boundaries, while blending a massive variety of genres — opted for a heavy, up-tempo and funky version that couldn’t be further from the original, while still fully able to stand on its own two feet and helping to round out a truly solid album from a band we would expect nothing less from.
Leading the way as one of the country’s most prolific and genre-defining figures in all of American music, Warren Haynes has cemented himself atop the list of the greatest storytellers of our lifetime. And, that legacy is only going to continue with the release of Heavy Load Blues. Available everywhere now (as well as a deluxe edition, featuring additional studio and live tracks, including another Haynes original and even more covers), be sure to get your copy of Heavy Load Blues today!
Purchase or stream ‘Heavy Load Blues’ album:
- Blues Before Sunrise
- Hole In My Soul
- Wake Up Dead
- Love Is A Mean Old World
- Snatch It Back And Hold It / Hold It Back / Snatch It Back And Hold It (Medley)
- Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City
- (Brother Bill) Last Clean Shirt
- Make It Rain
- Heavy Load
- Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home
- If Heartaches Were Nickels
- I Asked For Water (She Gave Me Gasoline)
- Black Horizon
Cover photo by Jay Sansone
Disclaimer: All views presented in this album review are those of the reviewer and not necessarily those of Top Shelf Music.