Warren Haynes and Gov’t Mule get back to their roots while exploring new territory

The Way of the Mule

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Photo by Anna Webber

For over 20 years, Gov’t Mule has been blurring the lines between Southern rock and jam, mixing a heavy muscularity and an exploratory spirit into some truly boundary-breaking music. Led by singer, guitarist, and songwriter Warren Haynes, the band has carried the tradition of Haynes’ old day job, the Allman Brothers Band, into new territory, working the instrumental mastery of jazz and the lyrical sophistication of folk music into their riff-heavy rock.

Haynes’ gruff but surprisingly agile voice and his bee-stung guitar tone are instantly recognizable, but on the Mule’s last studio album, “Shout!,” Haynes added some new voices to the mix, bringing in 11 different vocalists (including Steve Winwood, Elvis Costello, Grace Potter, Dr. John, and Dave Matthews) to interpret 11 new songs. This time out, on the band’s just-announced “Revolution Come, Revolution Go” album (due out in June), the band has gone back to basics — to an extent.

The album is chock-full of the expected heavy jam-rock (“Stone Cold Rage”) and Hammond organ-drenched roadhouse blues (“Pressure Under Fire”), but the band moves into some unexpected territory this time out, including a haunting, stretched-out workout on Blind Willie Johnson’s classic “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground,” and the eight-minute, swamp-funk-soaked title track, which takes our current political climate and pokes a little fun at it. “I ain’t sayin’ I got a better plan,” Haynes sings in his smoky growl, “But I ain’t askin’ nobody to follow me.”

“I think we’ve all felt things getting strange for the last few years in our country,” Haynes says. “There’s been a divide. And the title track is kind of a humorous, tongue-in-cheek look at it. We’ve been in kind of a time warp where things don’t get done, and there’s a big buildup to all this change that never happens.”

After the multi-vocalist blowout on “Shout!” and the passing of the band’s 20th anniversary, Haynes says that Gov’t Mule wanted to get back their roots, while still working into new territory. “What we wanted was to kind of go back to our first few records, but go places we’ve never gone before,” he says. “We wanted to bring influences that have always been with us but somehow never made it into a Mule record. The intent was to put one foot in the past and one in the future.”

It’s been three years since “Shout!” came out, but Haynes seemed to be perpetually working, playing a final tour with the Allman Bros. before their 2014 retirement and releasing a dazzling solo album called “Ashes & Dust,” which explored more acoustic blues and country territory than Haynes had with Gov’t Mule.

“When I made ‘Ashes & Dust,’ it was because I found myself writing a lot of songs that were a departure from Mule, so it was time to make a solo record,” Haynes says. “And on the new Gov’t Mule record, I think there are a lot of departures that could’ve been saved for a solo album, but it’s always fun to see how the songs get interpreted by the band. Mule has its own personality, collectively, so I was curious to see where things were going to wind up once Mule took the reins.”

One of the projects that Haynes took on in between Mule albums was signing Greenville’s own Marcus King Band to his management company, Hard Head, and producing the band’s self-titled album, which came out last year.

“When I first heard Marcus, he was 17,” Haynes says. “He was great then, and musically mature beyond his years. And I’ve watched over the last three or four years as he’s gotten better and better in leaps and bounds. Everywhere I go, people are talking about them, and it’s good to hear it, because they’re one of the bands that’s the future of the music that I love.”


Gov’t Mule

Sunday, April 23, 7 p.m.
Peace Center, 101 W. Broad St., Greenville
Tickets: $35–$45
864-467-3000 // peacecenter.org

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