.Gov’t Mule Celebrates Coming Out of the ‘Other Side of Hell’

Latest album informed by frontman Warren Haynes’ pandemic experience

Gov’t Mule’s latest album, Peace… Like a River, shreds laurels and hews fresh sounds from a batch of deeply personal and dynamic songs that deliver fuel for new and longtime admirers alike without giving into convention or complacency. A dozen studio albums in, the gang that originally hammered out its vanguard album at the Allman Brothers’ old house in Macon, Georgia, three decades ago is possibly even more compelling today than it was then.

Recorded in the same stretch of quarantined sessions that also begat the Mule’s 2021 juke-fest, Heavy Load BluesPeace… Like a River is the story told clear-eyed in the sunshine, wary of encroaching shadows and informed by lead guitarist/songwriter/frontman Warren Haynes’ pandemic experience.

“We decided to go with the blues record first because we’d been talking about doing a blues record for a long time and we thought, ‘Well if there was ever a time when everybody’s got the blues, this is it!’” Haynes said, laughing. The Asheville, North Carolina, native started Gov’t Mule with drummer Matt Abts and the late bassist Allen Woody in 1994.

Peace… Like a River, in some ways, deals with coming out of Covid and the whole lockdown,” Haynes said, “which we’re all thankful to be out of—assuming we are—but it deals with it in more of a celebratory ‘other side of hell’ way.”

Recording the album’s more introspective material during daylight hours in the main room at the Power Station studio in Waterford, Connecticut, today’s lineup of Gov’t Mule—Haynes, Abts, bassist Jorgen Carlsson and keyboardist/guitarist Danny Louis—would end the evening in one of the studio’s adjacent spaces, cranking out oily, fire-belching blues.

“We would switch our brains off, take a dinner break, and after dinner hole up in the small room next door and play blues the rest of the night,” Haynes said. “It was kind of a way of cleansing our brains, and it turned out to be the right recipe.”

Songs like “Made My Peace” offer up epic swells of stadium rock and psychedelia while plumbing emotions of loss and resignation, spiritually evoking the prodigal and notions of forgiveness.

“It’s also a metaphor for just coming back,” Haynes said. “It’s written through the eyes of the prodigal son, which I don’t think of myself that way, but metaphorically speaking there’s a lot of references to being gone for a long time and finding your way back. I also lost my dad during this process, which was really tough for me. And still is.”

On “Gone Too Long,” Haynes pays tribute to a fallen hero.

“‘Gone Too Long’ is more of a one-on-one relationship with your soulmate,” Haynes said. “But the same thing of acknowledging how much of your life you’ve spent being away and what damage it did, and what major losses were suffered along the way. [It] is a song that I wound up dedicating to David Crosby, who I only knew slightly. We played together once, but he was definitely an influence. I felt like that song had some of his influence from the very beginning, and then when he passed it just made perfect sense for me.”

A wealth of special guests are seasoned throughout Peace… Like a River, including stellar shots from Ivan Neville and Ruthie Foster on the buoyant but lamenting “Dreaming Out Loud”; soul/blues-belter Celisse Henderson, who appears on the hope-and-keys-laden “Just Across The River”; and icon Billy F. Gibbons of ZZ Top, who drops in on the “Heavy Load Blues”-ish “Shake Our Way Out.”

“That song, when we started working it up in the studio, it took on a ZZ-influenced vibe from the beginning and that’s what urged me to call Billy and ask him if he would get involved,” Haynes said. “It was great. You know, he had played on a song called ‘Broke Down on the Brazos’ that we did on [the 2009 album] By a Thread, but he didn’t sing. And on this one, he just sang and didn’t play, so next time I guess we gotta get him to do both!”

With the revelation that he’s writing new material, Haynes is careful not to commit to the next chapter while Gov’t Mule returns to the road for a tour that runs into late February.

“You know, I’ve been writing a lot of stuff that is more similar to Man in Motion,” Haynes said, referencing his 2011 solo effort. “It’s somewhere between [that] and Ashes & Dust, and I wonder if maybe the next thing I do might wind up being a solo record. I’m sure after two records and two back-to-back tours, Gov’t Mule might want a break. I’m not there yet, but I have started to write a lot.

“I’m looking forward to getting back in the studio, but for now we’ve got a lot of stage playing to do,” he said.

Gov’t Mule, 8pm Saturday, Feb. 17, at Fox Theater, 1807 Telegraph Ave., Oakland. 510.302.2250. Info: thefoxoakland.com.


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