According to Warren Haynes, singer-guitarist-songwriter for Gov't Mule, it is the first time something like this ever been done by any band -- and he's probably right.
Shout!, The group's first studio album in four years and debut for a new label (Blue Note), is a two-CD set. The first contains 11 new songs which cover the perhaps the widest breadth of genres of any Mule record. Then, a second disc features the same songs, only with a different guest vocalist on each track.
And when those guests include Elvis Costello, Jim James, Dr. John, Grace Potter, Dave Matthews, Steve Winwood, Ben Harper, Glenn Hughes, Myles Kennedy (aka Slash's singer), and Ty Taylor, it's no throwaway project.
"We didn't go into the studio thinking we'd do anything different. It just happened that way!" Haynes laughs. "And with the songs, I just felt that I wanted to go somewhere we'd never gone before, both musically and stylistically."
The current lineup of Gov't Mule includes original members Haynes and drummer Matt Abts, veteran keyboardist/guitarist Danny Louis, and newest member Jorgen Carlsson on bass. The band plays November 9 at the Bayou Music Center.
The impetus for the second disc came, according to Haynes, from Elvis Costello himself. Haynes had written a track called "Funny Little Tragedy," which he felt sounded not like the Mule, but like a Costello or early Clash track.
A query to the bespectacled Englishman about microphone types and how he achieved a certain sound back in the day led to an elaborate written response. This got Haynes thinking about asking Costello to make a guest appearance on the track.
Another number, "Scared to Live," had a reggae feel, so the band thought about asking Toots Hibbert for a contribution. And the lowdown, gutbucket "Stoop So Low" brought visions of Dr. John to the quartet.
"Then, we just started talking about what a waste it would be to have singers like this come in and do just a small part," Haynes says. "So we thought about alternate versions of those three songs, and that turned into a whole record."
And, as the band finances their own recordings, there were no naysayers. In fact Don Was -- president of Blue Note -- loved the idea. Some of the second disc's music was the same, and some newly-recorded. The band even put together an unreleased, third disc of just the instrumentals with hopes of placing them in movies or television.
Haynes does demur when asked if there were any "wish list" singers who couldn't contribute for some reason, but adds there may be some "future projects" with the mystery warblers.
And indeed, Shout! covers a lot of ground. From the bluesy, jammy, hard rock the Mule is best known for, to songs that touch on psychedelia, punk, reggae, torchy jazz, metal, and epic howlers. And it's very, very groove-heavy.
Interview continues on the next page.
Haynes calls it the "culmination" of everything the band has done to this point as it approaches its 20th anniversary.
"I don't think we could have done this on our third or fourth record, but here it makes sense," he surmises. Haynes also has high praise for Carlsson, and calls the chemistry he has with the band in terms of the bass the best since founding member Allan Woody, who died in 2000.
"The chemistry between the four of us is in a really good place, and stuff came together here in a way it hasn't in the past," Haynes continues about the lineup, which has been together now for five years. "It was a surprise when [former bassist] Andy [Hess] left us, but this is different than any other lineup. Andy was more pocket oriented. Jorgen is more aggressive."
As for Abts, whom Haynes met in '86 or '87 when both were in the Dickey Betts Band, he says the pair can "reach each other's minds" on stage at this point.
"We became instant friends when we met, and I love playing with him," Haynes sums up. "But Matt's also a wonderful human being, and I'm proud to be partners with him."
Gov't Mule plays Saturday night at Bayou Music Center; Vintage Trouble opens. Coming up in Part II: Why Warren Haynes is the Hardest Working Man in Show Business, the future of the Allman Brothers, his friendly competition with Derek Trucks, more about Shout!, and what he is running after, but may never catch.
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