Album of the Week 50-2014: Gov’t Mule – Dose


Now that Gov’t Mule has started releasing several recordings to celebrate their twentieth anniversary, it seems the right moment to give some attention to their discography. And although their discography does seem to confirm Gov’t Mule’s reputation as a live band, they have released quite some impressive albums. ‘Dose’ is probably the most impressive one because it doesn’t only highlight the band’s qualities as musicians, but also as songwriters. While the record is all over the map style-wise, it does feel like a whole. Even when the songs get extremely jam-heavy, the trio keeps it concise and interesting.

It’s important to know where Gov’t Mule is coming from to fully understand their brilliance. Original bassist Allen Woody, who sadly passed away in 2000, and guitar slinging frontman Warren Haynes more or less brought The Allman Brothers Band their second youth in the early nineties. They teamed up with drummer Matt Abts to form a power trio and apparently have some more musical freedom. Their live sets contain Blues, Soul, Rock, Jazz, Folk and even some old school Heavy Metal covers and save for the latter, all these influences are represented on ‘Dose’. It seems unlikely, but it works incredibly well.

Why it works so well is because these songs are – despite the room provided for improvisation – extremely well written. The most obvious example is ‘Thorazine Shuffle’: due to its relatively simple structure, there’s plenty of space to solo over, but in the end, it’s Woody’s incredible and surprisingly timed bass line that makes the song. Also, it’s one of the best bass lines ever recorded. Opening track ‘Blind Man In The Dark’ seems relatively concise, but prove to be an excellent vehicle for extended jams in future live shows and on future live albums as well. Maybe that’s what makes Gov’t Mule the best recorded jam band: they know albums and live shows are different sciences.

The aforementioned songs, along ‘Game Face’ and ‘Larger Than Life’, became Gov’t Mule live staples through the years, and rightfully so, but there’s so much more to hear on this album. My personal favorite being ‘Towering Fool’, a surprisingly sparse and heartfelt power ballad with an incredible build-up. It does help that Haynes isn’t only a world class guitarist, but also a fantastic, soulful singer. It’s one of those ballads that cuts through your soul. Obligated listening. Other notable moments are the acoustic and folky ‘Raven Black Night’ and the gospel-like closer ‘I Shall Return’.

While Gov’t Mule has at least as many fantastic live albums as studio records and most of them are worth having, their studio albums generally are very pleasant listening experiences as well. ‘Dose’ is probably the one that captures them best without going all overboard on jamming, something that obviously works better live than on an album. Instead, it’s a collection of strong Rock songs, expert musicianship and Warren Haynes’ fantastic voice. And while Allen Woody is sadly no longer with us and the band has since expanded to a quartet, the legacy of the band lives on. Hopefully for much, much longer.

Recommended tracks: ‘Towering Fool’, ‘Thorazine Shuffle’, ‘Blind Man In The Dark’

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