There’s more woody tone in Gov’t Mule’s new By a Thread CD than in just about any album I can think of off the top of my head since the ’70s (maybe Derek Trucks’ latest?). Many other albums have great tones, but it’s pretty rare that everything sounds this woody in a vintage rock way. (I’ve read people’s comments that 100% disagree with that assessment. I honestly don’t get that.)
Obviously a lot of studio voodoo is involved in sound, but at least as much as in the players and their styles – including how they record. Here’s a Warren Haynes quote from a recent billboard.com interview:
“We actually are one of those bands that doesn’t record conventionally. We set up in the studio live and play just like we normally do. Then we usually go back and overdub the vocals, and if there’s something else we want to add, we do. We’re kind of allergic to the normal methods of recording, where you record one instrument at a time. We feel like the kind of music we love benefits from a more old-school approach. We’re all standing in the same room, playing at the same time.”
Seems obvious Warren is stoked to play with this band because there’s a ton of sick tone and playing coming from his fingers, and the same true about the rest of the band.
Speaking of that, I need to mention one thing: I’m typically not a big fan of having keyboards in a band, but with Danny Louis (and Billy Powell!) I’m revising my opinion. Danny lays down some really tasty lines and tones. He even uses a wah pedal here and there, and it sounds great!
Warren’s Tone and Gear
Warren’s tone on the album is, of course, stellar. What I find really interesting is how warm his tone is. Les Pauls through Marshalls have a particular sound – to my ears it’s a lot of mids and high-mids. But Warren’s Les Pauls and other Gibsons through his amps (including a Soldano) sound very warm.
Unfortunately there haven’t been any interviews yet about Warren’s gear on this disc (working on it!) even though it’s likely it hasn’t changed much. Then again, all kinds of stuff can be used in studios….
Here’s what he said earlier this year about his live gear:
> Heads: modified Soldano SLO-100 and a Ceasar Diaz CD-100 prototype. But in recent YouTube vids you can also see one of the new PRS heads, likely the Dallas he was using with the Dead.
> Cabs: He said he was using “a Tone Tubby cabinet and a Marshall cabinet,” speakers not specified, but in the recent vids it looks like two Marshall cabs – one of which could have Tone Tubbys.
In terms of guitars, Gibson makes a Warren Haynes Les Paul, and its specs presumably indicate what Warren likes
> Carved plain maple top with solid mahogany back.
> The neck is also a solid piece of mahogany with rosewood fingerboard, neck profile modeled after the 1958 Les Pauls.
> The finish is known as Haynes Burst though Gibson lists it on the website as the much-less-cool “aged yellow.”
> Hardware: nickel, TonePros locking bridge and tailpiece, Schaller straplocks, vintage-style tuners, bone nut.
> Pickups: Gibson Burstbucker 1 in the neck position and a Gibson Burstbucker 2 in the bridge.
Burstbuckers use Alnico II magnets and have “historically ‘unmatched’ bobbin windings,” according to Gibson. The 1 has lower output than the 2 (and there’s also a 3). On the 2, Gibson says: it “features medium output, and is perfect for both positions [bridge and neck].”
Before getting into the track-by-track listen, a quick note: In case you’re sort of a casual Warren/Mule fan, understand that while this is rock, every song is different. It’s rock, it’s jammy, it’s old-school, it’s varied, yet it all hangs together – just what you’d expect from the Mule.
In other words, don’t expect a whole album of “Broke Down on the Brazos.”
The quotes from Warren below are from this interview.
1. Broke Down on the Brazos
> Everything you want in a Southern-flavored, kick-butt tune. And more than you expect, with the Rev. Billy F. Gibbons playing on it. (Side note: How identifiable is Billy’s tone? My 7-year-old recognized it in about two notes.)
> If there was some way to have a whole album of tunes like this, whoever accomplished it would be the heirs apparent to the mighty ZZ Top.
> This tune is literally worth the price of the CD alone. Yes, you would pay $12, $15, whatever for this. Love it.
> More on this tune and Billy playing on it is at this prior post.
2. Steppin’ Lightly
> This has a ’70s rock flavor to me – the riff, the tone, the singing, everything.
> One HELL of an outro solo, all 1:20 of it (crazy sustain!). More taste and tone than any one man has a right to. Listening to it again as I type this!
3. Railroad Boy
> A Zep-ish version of a a Celtic folk song. Very cool.
> Love the way this tune flows into the next one, again in a very ’70s way – which is why iTunes sucks and people whould buy entire albums!
4. Monday Mourning Meltdown
> Sprinkle a little of every good ’70s band on top of the Mule, and you have this tune. Sort of moody. Tough to describe, but again very good.
> Clean tone on the solo, distorted “backwards” solo.
> 8:08 and NOT the longest track on the album!
5. Gordon James
> A folk song about an arms dealer. Interesting, and well done.
> Here’s what Warren said about it in an interview: “It’s a folk song, given the treatment the way a Pink Floyd song, or something, would help become the backdrop to the message.”
> One of my favorite lines (the last part): “You were way too young to lose your soul. They say you traded it away – did you think you could just buy it back someday.”
> Slide solo. Did anyone know Warren could play slide? (Just kidding.)
6. Any Open Window (Any Open “Winidow” according to how it comes up in iTunes!)
> A rocker, right off the bat reminds me of Hendrix. He even says, “”scuse me” before breaking into the solo – what tune does Jimi do that on again?
> After the solo Warren riffs out with what sounds like a fuzz pedal – more Hendrix.
> Here’s what Warren said about the tune: “I think we all could feel this kind of Hendrix-esque vibe emanating from the music. So I wanted the lyric to project that as well, and kind of reflecting on the fact that we just lost Buddy Miles and Mitch Mitchell, who were the two Jimi Hendrix drummers. So that was all kind of in our minds when we were writing the song. So in some way it’s playing tribute to that kind of vibe – not directly, but indirectly – it was one of those songs that came up from the ground and happened so quickly that we didn’t question it.”
7. Frozen Fear
> A reggae-ish, slower very Warren tune. Not my favorite style, but a good tune.
> Warren: “I think for us, it’s important to maintain a balance between all the different styles we’re influenced by, and for a band that relies on improvisation and playing really long shows…balance is really important. And I’ve noticed and learned from bands like the Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead that there’s the light side of stuff you do and the dark side of what you do and some stuff in between, but all of it is part of the overall picture. The reggae influence came about when Danny switched from keyboards to guitar. We had started recording the song with him playing keyboards and it wasn’t coming together. We were trying a more rhythm-and-blues approach and we weren’t happy with it, so he said, “Lets see what happens when I play guitar.” And he started playing this reggae-ish-influenced thing, and it all sort of fell into place. So, the final result being similar to but different than anything we’ve done.”
> Starts acoustic, the band comes in at about 2 minutes and really kicks the tune in the a** without changing the tempo.
> Sweet wah solo. Really dig it.
> Warren: “Forevermore” is a song of mine that prior to this recording had only been done solo acoustic. It appears on my Live at Bonnaroo CD, and I had never thought of it as a Gov’t Mule song, but [co-producer and engineer] Gordie Johnson came up with the idea of making it a Mule song. He kept reiterating that he loved the song and we should give it a try and see what happened when the band interpreted it. And so we did…. I guess I never thought of it as a rock song. I always thought of it as a folk ballad, but in the same way that we treated “Railroad Boy,” we kind of treated “Forevermore.” And I love when that happens because part of the beauty of being in a band – especially a band like Gov’t Mule, where there’s a high level of musicianship – is that the band’s interpretation of the song is going to exceed what’s in my head when I write it. It’s a luxury that I’m happy to be able to afford.
9. Inside Outside Woman Blues #3
> Raw, fat Les Paul tone-dripping wah-tinged goodness! Yeah!
> Key change at 3:54 totally unexpected and very cool. I’m hearing Mitch Mitchell and Jimi again during the solo. Or is it Cream?
> Very cool keyboard tone/solo after that.
> Love the drums. Love this tune, the longest on the album at 9:04! The band starts jamming at about 6:30.
> Warren: “Lyrically it was the answer to “Outside Woman Blues” which was an old blues song that Cream covered in the way that bands used to write the answer to someone else’s song. That’s kind of what “Inside Outside Woman Blues” started as, and I didn’t know at the time, when I was writing it, that it was going to turn into this big, long, jam-oriented song, but once we started playing it, it just kind of wanted to go there.
The number “3” refers to the fact that we did three versions of it, and we liked all three of them, so we included “No. 3” on the CD. “No. 1” is on the vinyl and “No. 2” will come out somewhere — we’re not sure exactly where — but eventually all three versions will be available. [“No. 1” and “No. 2″] are just live performances with the vocal and all the instrumentation going to tape live, as if we were on stage, so they just kind of have their own vibe. They differ a bit in arrangement and from a sonic perspective, but mostly in the interpretation and the improvisation.”
Inside Outside Woman Blues, Wellmont Theater, Montclair, NJ, Aug. 5, 2009
10. Scenes from a Troubled Mind
> Sweet slide riff. Really like the singing and arrangement on this one. Also the “space” in the mix.
> Speeds up at about 3:00.
> I am hearing ZZ Top, Pink Floyd and Zep on this one, which is cool!
> Apparently recorded sometime back, Warren said: “‘Scenes From a Troubled Mind’ was recorded during the High and Mighty [last Mule CD] sessions and has Andy Hess playing bass. We actually even finished ‘Scenes From a Troubled Mind’ during those sessions and were on the fence of whether to bump one of the songs and include it. With that song and ‘World Wake Up,’ I knew that if they didn’t make High and Mighty they were going to make the next record. So, once we got into the studio “Scenes From a Troubled Mind” just seemed to be like a missing piece to the puzzle.”
11. World Wake Up
> A dark, slow tune – as suggested by the title.
> Tick-tock in the background reminds me of Pink Floyd again.
> Warren: “I wrote that song with Danny Louis during the George W. Bush administration…and we never did really finish it. Now we’re in the beginning stages of the Obama administration and I think it takes on a little different meaning. It’s a little more somber and tranquil and little less angry then when I wrote it, but it’s very much reaching out for unification worldwide.”