Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Album Review: Gov't Mule - Peace...Like A River

Gov't Mule
Peace...Like A River
***and1/2 out of *****

When the great James Brown passed away, jamband fans anointed Warren Haynes the hardest working man in show business as he seemed to be everywhere; writing, recording, and playing, all the time. The Covid lockdown must have been madness on Haynes, and to bust out of that, he and his main band Gov't Mule shacked up in Waterford, CT's Power Station New England to simultaneously record two albums, last years excellent, blues focused, Heavy Load Blues, and this years Peace...Like A River

Gov't Mule, (Haynes [guitar, vocals], Matt Abts [drums], Danny Louis [keyboards, guitar, and backing vocals], and Jorgen Carlsson [bass]) have hit the end of this section of their career which started in 2009 with Carlsson joining (Carlsson left the band after this release) and this record is a fine coda to those years. Peace...Like A River has all the trademarks of the group, stout low-end, blazing guitar work, soulful vocals and keys, yet there is also a knotty prog-rock sense at times, jazz influences and a whole lot of classic rock touch points.  

Unlike a lot of Mule releases which work as hard driving blues and cover efforts, this record is weighty, with lyrical themes reoccurring; it isn't a background album. Haynes and company dig in from the start with "Same At It Ever Was" acoustic strings, layers of guitar and Haynes sweet vocals float out. The track twists and turns, moving into heavy rock land for stanzas as well as smoother passages. Nothing on Peace...Like A River, is straight ahead and easy, and that starts here. 

The most "classic Mule sound" happens next as Billy Gibbons joins on the very ZZ Top sounding blues based "Shake Our Way Out", "After The Storm" is heavily influenced by The Doors, while Mule channels their Pink Floyd love into "Made My Peace" which uses prog-rock phrasing, wah-wah and huge vocal displays from Haynes. This tune also brings in the title theme as Peace and River show up lyrically throughout the album, tying the works together.  

There is a whole hell of a lot to tie together, these songs run long, and overall this is a double album, clocking in at around 76 minutes there is a ton to digest and it can be a bit overwhelming. Efforts like "Peace I Need" and "Your Only Friend" are fine, yet bloated with strings and extra riffs/solos. The best of the bunch is the funky “Dreaming Out Loud,” featuring Ivan Neville and Ruthie Foster. The keys, rich bass, and slick guitar lines work wonderfully, standing out from the more bobbing and weaving tunes around it. 

Another guest, Billy Bob Thornton shows up with lead vocals on the most experimental track here, the spoken word "The River Only Flows One Way" which uses off kilter percussion and has a spiritual successor "Just Across The River" as the journey continues. The adventure concludes in a big way via the deep bass, slinky keys and excellent horn runs in "Long Time Coming", wrapping up the album in lyrical fashion while "Gone Too Long" acts like searing guitar driven encore.       

There is a lot to digest on this overstuffed, yet never dull album and Gov't Mule may have been more successful if they paired it down to more of a single record, but for fans of Haynes and company, this record will bear fruit for years to come. There is feeling that these songs sat around too long and were overly thought-out, yet there is also a sense that Peace...Like A River, is the best album this formation of the Mule has ever released lurking just under the flowing river of sound. 
Support the artist, buy the album, peep some video below:

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