Sco-Mule

Gov't Mule Featuring John Scofield

Evil Teen Records, 2015

http://mule.net

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/11/2015

Early in the career, blues-rock stalwarts Gov’t Mule spent considerable time inviting special guests to join them during live shows. Live…With A Little Help From Our Friends chronicles this period quite well, the only problem being that it was released too early in the year. Had the band waited, they could have included some audio from their December 1999 show with jazz guitarist John Scofield.

The downside is that all but the faithful had to wait 15 years for this show to be officially release. The upside is that it’s finally here, and it is simply stunning.

Nary a vocal is to be found here. These are simply 11 jazz-blues-rock-funk songs averaging around 12 minutes apiece, each one nearly as good as the last, the musicians achieving a telepathy with each other that can only come from live performance. Gov’t Mule puts on one hell of a show to begin with, but the addition of Scofield elevates guitarist Warren Haynes’ playing even more. The two trade off solos and harmonies while still working with the rhythm section to achieve something beyond “jam band” status.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Granted, two and a half hours of this can be a bit much in one sitting, but man, is it worth it. Rarely since the Allman Brothers have four distinct musical styles been fused so skillfully. The insistent shuffle of “Doing It To Death” lays the foundation for a plethora of riffs, organ solos and a vibrant intensity, while “Birth Of The Mule” features Allen Woody’s walking bass and squealing, muscular rock solos that sear into your brain.

“Hottentot” is nearly playful in comparison, a great way to kick off the show. Meanwhile, the title cut is fairly annoying for a while but culminates in an all-out hard rock performance, Matt Abts rolling all over his drum kit as the band builds and lurches behind him like a train trying to stop on an icy track. Woody’s rumbling, kinetic bass is the key to the success of “Kind Of Bird,” which boogies and struts like an Allman track, especially in the At Fillmore East-inspired midsection.

The knotty, intense “Devil Likes It Slow” is a highlight of the second disc, which also includes alternate versions of “Kind Of Bird” and “Hottentot” (perhaps from different shows) and the unremarkable “Pass The Peas,” which is unremarkable only in comparison to the rest of the album. It all leads to the astonishing 23-minute closer “Afro Blue,” a maze of a song that incorporates the usual jazz-blues-rock stew with funky bass, quotes from the Allman Brothers’ “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed” and, of course, a drum solo. At 23 minutes, it evokes those Allman classics of old, and it’s easy to get lost in.

Sco-Mule marks a time when this venerable band, with the help of a veteran guitarist outside of the band’s genre, gained newfound confidence and discovered a new side to their songwriting and improve approach. Future collaborations with Scofield were a little less fruitful, leaving this album as a powerful testament to a chilly evening when everything came together and everyone got it right.

Rating: A-

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