Mighty High – Gov’t Mule
While recording 2006’s High & Mighty the idea surfaced for Gov’t Mule to present a sequel of sorts. Mighty High, an album that features Mule’s musclebound version of reggae, dub and soul that revisits some of the material from that release and adds several special guests — Toots Hibbert, Michael Franti and Willi Williams.
But, first things first. We’ve heard Gov’t Mule bowl us over with its powerhouse blues-based rock, and then find the members taking us on new tangents into soul, R&B, jazz and folk. So, the idea of the band stepping into the warm waters of reggae doesn’t seem odd. And the genre is worn comfortably well on the opening tracks, a cover of Al Green’s “I’m a Ram” and “Rebel with a Cause” with Williams. A cover of The Band’s “Shape I’m In” sounds much more inspired than a good portion of the tracks that ended up on the tribute album released earlier this year, Endless Highway: The Music of The Band,. It soon becomes obvious that the Mule is intent on tailoring reggae’s rhythmic style into their own world, and on much of Mighty High that works so much better than giving in and possibly ending up sounding like some awful local band covering a Bob Marley classic.
Even “Horseflies,” a dub version of “Like Flies,” bears strong results, all chopped up, echo-laden goodness that still has some relation to the original. The same goes for “Outta Shape,” which offers a nod to its reggae source while maintaining the strong presence of members Warren Haynes, Matt Abts, Danny Louis and Andy Hess. You can even hear in Louis’s liquid keyboard notes hints of the band’s recent Halloween performance of Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy album.
Of course, the idea of Mighty High is that it’s an experiment. That’s how it should be viewed, particularly when dealing with the occasional creative hiccup in the proceedings. As much as I enjoy Franti’s work, the collaboration on “Play With Fire,” seems like a better moment in time during Mule’s Midnight show at the last Bonnaroo then it sounds here, especially with the added studio enhancement given to the number. On the other hand, his collaboration with the band on “Unthrow That Spear” works. And I understand adding the dub-driven “Hard to Dubya” to the successful cover of “Hard to Handle” with Hibbert is just following reggae tradition, but just like “So Ram, So Rong,” an inside out version of “I’m A Ram,” the groove is there but it just doesn’t simultaneously bounce off your solar plexus and brain like a good deep drum-n-bass dub number should. One can look at the album’s overall construction, which doesn’t stick to the dub formula of bleeding one song into another until it sonically fries your brain. The attempt can be found in “Unblow Your Horn,” “Reblow Your Mind” and “Plastecine Era” but separating the tracks lessens the impact. The quibbles with the final result can be rectified, to some degree, by the CD player’s program’ button. And maybe that’s the intent, to allow listeners to create their own Mighty High experience. It’s still one that should satisfy the faithful, but it probably won’t bring reggae enthusiasts to fall in line.