It’s tough summing up a recording with as wide a creative grasp as Gov’t Mule’s new two-disc set Shout!, but leading the band for 19 years does give Gibson legend Warren Haynes the definitive inside line.
“This album puts a spotlight on the songs and the way that we interpret them, which hinges on the unique chemistry we’ve developed as a band,” Haynes explains.
Shout! also put the spotlight on a variety of A-list singers besides Haynes that includes Dave Matthews, Steve Winwood, Dr. John, Toots Hibbert, Elvis Costello and Glenn Hughes, who’ve each recorded an alternate vocal performance of one of the first disc’s 11 new compositions. So fans who purchase Shout! hear both Haynes’ vocal performances with his bandmates Matt Abts, Danny Louis and Jorgen Carlsson, plus Haynes and crew instrumentally backing one guest vocalist on each of the tunes.
Dr. John, for example, growls on the alternate version of the funky “How Can You Stoop So Low” and Costello snarls out the lyrics of the post-new-waver “Funny Little Tragedy.”
The notion of having guest singers was inspired by a conversation Haynes had with his friend Costello. “I called to ask him what type of vocal microphone he’d used on one of his classic albums with the Attractions,” Haynes says. “Then, after writing and recording ‘Funny Little Tragedy’ I couldn’t get his voice out of his head and began thinking about pairing other vocalists with the set’s other songs.”
So Haynes made of list of Shout!’s titles and his top choices for singers, and his first-draft picks agreed — a tribute to Haynes’ and Gov’t Mule’s standing among their peers.
“No one’s done this before, which is exciting,” the Signature Model Les Paul Standard playing guitarist notes, “but it’s even more exciting actually listening to these artists sing our songs. Their performances bring new ideas, energy and sometimes even different meanings to every number.”
But guitarists are likely to be more excited by the fact that Shout! offers some of the most extraordinary playing in Gov’t Mule’s sonically colorful history. The set also boasts an impressive scope, ranging from the suite-like epic “Bring On The Music” — a soaring tribute to the affirming power of rock ‘n’ roll — to the snarling punk rocker “Funny Little Tragedy” to the soul-reggae testifier “Scared To Live.”
“The language the members of Gov’t Mule share as musicians brought these songs to life in the studio and allowed us to expand on them in a non-formulaic way,” Haynes relates. “We’re a rock ‘n’ roll band, but we play like a jazz group, improvising within the framework of songs — exchanging, replying to and redefining ideas through a dialog carried out on instruments. That was an important element of jazz, blues and rock from the ’50s and ’60s, which is lost to a lot of modern music.”
Masterful improvisational skills and a deep knowledge of musical roots has served Haynes well, not only in Gov’t Mule but with the impressive list of artists he’s collaborated with. Parallel to his nearly two decades in the Mule he has been the six-string mainstay of the Allman Brothers Band and the Dead, and performed or recorded with a diverse array of artists including Phil Lesh & Friends, James Hetfield, Bob Dylan, John Lee Hooker, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Dave Matthews, Kid Rock and B.B. King. In 2011 he made his second in-studio solo album, the aptly titled Man In Motion, which paid tribute to his blues roots and found him experimenting with different tones and effects.
Paying tribute is also part of Shout!’s strategy. Haynes explains that the brawny “Bring On the Music” was written to celebrate the 40 th anniversary of the break-up of the classic British blues-rock band Free — which was fronted by fellow legendary Les Paul Standard player Paul-Kossoff , and that “How Could You Stoop So Low” is a nod to the 40th anniversary of the release of Sly & the Family Stone’s influential album Fresh.
“Everything about the way each of us played on ‘Bring On The Music’ is meant to evoke the style of Free, and we met our goal of creating the Sly sound, with backing singers Alecia Chakour and Nigel Hall from my solo band and really funky keyboards, even with a smaller group than Sly’s,” says Haynes. “Setting a bar for ourselves like that is really fun, because we all have such a wide variety of musical points of reference that a song can start in any style — from rock to blues to funk to R&B to reggae — and end up going to a completely different place.
“On Shout! every performance of each song stands on its own, but always sounds like us,” he adds. “But it’s a part of us that most people have never heard before.
“It’s an odd journey we’ve taken, and there’s no way I could have predicted it in 1994 when we started,” Haynes remarks. “Everyone in Gov’t Mule brings their own personality to the music, and we’re always looking for opportunities to expand and excite ourselves. Shout! is proof of that, as well as an album I could never have predicted we’d make even five years ago.
“When Allen Woody passed away we discussed the possibility of calling it quits,” Haynes continues. “We went on and allowed ourselves time to realize that we’ve got to keep the music alive. We are now part of the tradition we’ve always intended to honor, and that’s something we could only have dreamed to achieve and never expected in a million years.”