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Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012

Gov’t Mule

The Georgia Bootleg Box (Evil Teen Records)

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Hulking, aggressive, overlong and practically dripping with sun-baked, redneck testosterone, this six-disc, seven-hour package acts as an apt metaphor for the band itself. And what with this Allman Brothers-spinoff power trio feeling the carnal urge to not just play, but to burn down everything from Son House to ZZ Top to jazz-freakout masters Mahavishnu Orchestra, this might be the most essential reading yet of powerhouse singer-guitarist-bandleader Warren Haynes.

The three-show span in Georgia features the original lineup of Haynes, the late Allen Woody on bass and drummer Matt Abts, and covers consecutive nights in Athens, Atlanta and Macon in 1996. It was a simpler time, before jam bands were such a universally accepted pain in the neck, and certainly before that lot was littered with wankers. And though the current incarnation might now be thrown in with the rest of the patchouli-heads, here the Mule comes on like a band more into beer than psychedelics, more into Coltrane (“Trane”) than Bill Monroe banjo noodlery, and most into an Allmans-derived interpretation of old-timey Americana blues (“She’s 19 Years Old”).

Still, noodle they do. Long, gritty tangents and greasy six-string wanderings have varying degrees of success—often dependent on the listener’s level of intoxication. There’s the Dead’s “St. Stephen,” Tom Waits’ “Goin’ Out West” and an epic reading of Little Feat’s “Spanish Moon” all on the good side. But when the boys sound most at home is on a hard, Southern-fried groove (“Mule” or the Top’s “Just Got Paid”), Haynes bellowing from way down deep in his considerable and soulful gut.  

At such length and sweaty intensity, this is a collection undoubtedly for the completist. But it’s also a righteously thorough documentation of the formative period of one of the last great Southern rock bands, from a time when their future seemed all Blue Sky and Dreams.  

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