Since beginning life as an Allman Brothers Band side-project in the mid-nineties, Gov’t Mule has amassed a sizable reputation as a signature live act for the jam band set, fusing muddy blues and razor sharp guitar solos into a foundation of classic Southern rock templates.
The band’s eighth studio release, By A Thread may not have sounded out of place in the mid-nineties (or, apart from the spotless production work, the mid-seventies), but Gov’t Mule crafts the sort of tight, riff-laden road-ready rock that endures shifting musical trends. The album kicks off with the high-octane, deep blues crunch of “Broke Down On The Brazos.” A cameo by ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons results in curly slabs of electric guitar doodling and a hefty dose of metal riffs grafted onto standard blues progressions for a churning charmer of a hard rock cut. Twisting, longer jams like “Scenes from a Troubled Mind” and “Steppin’ Lightly” allow the group to experiment with some studio effects while plowing through complex song structures. Both tracks should make for exquisite set pieces live, with their Yes-meets-the-bayou balance of charm and experimentation. Down-South folk rock numbers like “Gordon James” and “Railroad Boy” are serviceable enough, but weigh themselves down with excessive rhyme schemes and overly familiar song structures. And acoustic dirge “Forevermore” feels entirely of another era, but the band’s best moments appear when the mood is lightened.
“Frozen Fear” strings up some ska-inflected guitar lines and underscores the spindly percussion with a rosy blush of organ for a backyard-barbecue vibe that allows Warren Haynes’ vocals to relax and achieve a fragility missing elsewhere on the album. On By A Thread, Gov’t Mule’s incredibly sharp musicality reaches the highest points when the band takes a moment to relax.
Favorite Track: “Frozen Fear”
Reviewer Bio - Christopher j Ewing is a writer and filmmaker living in Los Angeles with a girl and a designer dog. He is in a band by himself, has a myspace account at www.myspace.com/wastedpotentialproduction and a production company at (www.wastedpotentialproductions.com) for freelance film, video and journalism work.