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Published: 2002/11/23
by Chris Gardner

The Deep End, volume II – Gov’t Mule

ATO Records – ATO 0006

Allen Woody may well have been a sweetheart behind closed doors, but on stage, he was
the most intimidating man this side of Henry Rollins. Watch him scowl at
the pretty women. Watch him snarl at the dancers. Most importantly, listen
to him wreck the low end, scattering the weak-hearted like chickens and
making the little children cry. When Gov't Mule lost Woody, they lost a
bassist, a brother, and a hard-boiled menace. The trio, rounded out by
Warren Haynes and Matt Abts reeled. To honor the man, they rounded up a
collection of Woody's heroes to fill his slot, an assembly so venerable it
may well have brought a tear to the bad man's eye. Phil, George, Les,
Stefan, Gordon, Bootsy, Entwistle, Schools, Flea — the one name crew. The
sessions stretched as each bassist paid tribute to Woody by tagging in and
filling his role. In the end, they had enough on tape for well more than
two full albums, and The Deep End, volume II represents the second though
not necessarily the final installment. In contrast with the powerful first release, this eclectic
volume (both Jason Newsted and David Grisman appear) is a frustratingly uneven effort.

At times Warren Haynes has more talent than taste. It stands as a tribute to
his skills that, more often than not, the talent wins out, but the first
half of this disc presents an argument to the contrary. The collaboration
with Les Claypool finds him earnestly
growling the line, "Get your gopher gravy from greasy granny." Who could
say that in earnest? Evidently, Warren Haynes can. Jason Newsted swings a
weighty hammer on "Tryin' Not to Fall", but the satisfying crunch can't hide the fact that
this could easily have been a Winger song. "World of Confusion", featuring
Tony Levin, suffers a similar fate, foundering under the weight of its
overblown chorus.

The failure of these early tracks is driven home with authority as "Hammer
and Nails" arrives. John Medeski and Meshell Ndegeocello lay a solid and
soulful base for Warren
to work with. "Slow Happy Boys", like "Hammer and Nail" before it, relies
heavily on a single refrain, and each track rings dark and true, reminding
the listener exactly how compelling Warren's voice and guitar work can be.
Few can match his chops with or without the slide, and his graveled, wearied
voice can grab you by the heart muscle. His languid, nearly slurred
delivery on the latter perfectly suits the pace, falling into each chorus
atop Chuck Leavell's sweaty organ and Pete Sears piano. The strength of the
interplay between the keys and Haynes' slide in the closing minutes simply
dwarfs the foibles of the early tracks.

The country fried prog-rock of "Sundance" isn't an runaway winner, but it
again stands head and shoulders above the first half. "Catfish Blues", with
its "Mannish Boy"
passages, is the type of slow burnin' blues number that Warren readily flares into a
conflagration and he doesn't disappoint here. The closer,
"Babylon Turnpike" accompanied by Johnny Neel on keys and Alphonso Johnson
on upright, stretches the furthest from the Mule stompin' grounds. Haynes'
displays his ample jazz skills on the slow-blues, but it's restrained and
refined palette seem wildly out of place here.

The scene, and especially his brothers in Gov't Mule, suffered a terrible
loss with the death of Allen Woody. To eulogize him, his bandmates
gathered a collection of musicians that would make anyone proud. The first
collection lived up to its promise. However, a number of the tracks
found here, sound, as the title suggests,
secondary.

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