Rock ’n’ roll music has always been a reflection of the times, and the new Gov’t Mule album, Revolution Come… Revolution Go, is no exception.
With Revolution Come… Revolution Go, out now on Fantasy Records, the band again sets the tone for their legacy with its cleverly-crafted songs, intelligent lyrical commentary, and downright incendiary playing. It’s those traditions, combined with an observant eye on the present, that define their tenth full-length studio effort.
“It was very poignant that we went into the studio in Austin, Texas, to begin recording on Election Day,” Grammy Award-winning vocalist and guitar legend Warren Haynes recalls of the November 2016 recording sessions. “Like most people, we really had no idea that the election was going to turn out the way it did. That changed everything – from a lyrical perspective. It’s not a political record, per se, but there are political connotations. There are also love songs, relationship songs, and songs about working together to make this a better planet. It covers a lot of ground, but it definitely starts and ends as a rock ’n’ roll record. It’s all within the realm of what we do, but it explores a lot of territory and, in some cases, territory we’ve never explored before.”
Steeped in the roots and mystique of rock, blues, soul, and jazz, the quartet — Haynes, Matt Abts [drums], Danny Louis [keyboards, guitar, and backing vocals], and Jorgen Carlsson [bass] — is equally recognized for its stirring songwriting and storytelling as it is for the improvisational virtuosity that fuels their countless live performances. Their music has galvanized a fan base of millions around the world, reaching a place of preeminence as one of the most timeless, revered and active bands in the world whose spot amongst rock titans remains unshakable.
This record threads together moments of soul, country, and tried-and-true virtuosic, vibrant, and vital rock. A patchwork of styles, it proudly ushers along Gov’t Mule’s next phase.
“One of our missions has always been to stay together as a band long enough to bring all of these different influences to the surface,” Haynes goes on. “Blues, funk, and soul are a part of what we do. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, the umbrella of rock music had room for so many different stylistic approaches – bands that were worlds apart were still considered ‘rock’ bands. We’ve always taken a cue from that. And although I’ve said it previously about other Gov’t Mule releases, this is probably the most diverse record we’ve ever made. That’s really important to us.”
The first of two lead singles, the soulful “Sarah, Surrender,” sees Haynes’ simmering vocal delivery take center stage over a groove punctuated by congas, organ, a female back-up chorus, and jazz-y guitar licks. Evoking Curtis Mayfield and Al Green, it illuminates yet another musical facet of the band.
“‘Sarah, Surrender’ was the last song written for the project,” Haynes explains, “and was recorded in New York City in January , after the Austin sessions were done. It seemed like the missing piece to the puzzle.”
Meanwhile, the other lead single, “Stone Cold Rage,” packs a walloping punch. An ominous riff gives way to furiously funky wah-pedal cries as Haynes screams, “Mama’s gonna be a martyr.”
“‘Stone Cold Rage’ represents the divide that’s going on in our country right now,” Haynes points out about the song. “Even though it was written before the election, it was written knowing that whichever way the results went, we were going to have close to fifty percent of the nation very angry. Musically, it’s an aggressive up-tempo rock song that reflects the anger of the lyrics, but with a sense of sarcasm and humor.”
Whether it’s the rustic steel guitar of the countrified road song “Traveling Tune” or the dark twists and turns of the nearly nine-minute “Thorns Of Life,” each moment of the album comprises an unpredictable journey that somehow adds to the overall flow. Says Haynes, “We still believe in the concept of an ‘album’ having its own collective personality.”
After having invited 11 guest vocalists to offer different interpretations of the songs on their last studio effort, Shout!, the band wanted to keep the guests to a minimum this time around, however, Jimmie Vaughan turns up for a sizzling cameo on the super-charged “Burning Point.” Haynes says, “When I first wrote ‘Burning Point,’ it had more of a New Orleans feel to it. But when we got into the studio in Austin to record it, it took on more of a Texas vibe, and Jimmie really added to that.”
Longtime collaborator Gordie Johnson joined Haynes as co-producer for six tunes, while the iconic Don Was co-produced the powerful and moving “Dreams & Songs” and “Pressure Under Fire” along with the frontman. The latter explodes into a lyrical guitar solo as Haynes urges, “We’ve got to get out of this mess.”
“‘Pressure Under Fire’ is essentially another political song, but it comes from the standpoint that we’re all in this together, and it’s up to us to make it work,” Haynes states. “The opening line, ‘Just another song about the same thing,’ recognizes this is a message that we’ve heard before, but it needs to be said—especially now.”
Another politically-charged song, “Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground,” is the reworking of the traditional blues instrumental originally recorded by Blind Willie Johnson, to which Haynes added lyrics and the band turned into an epic gospel rock closer. “Dark Was The Night,” along with the aforementioned “Thorns Of Life” and “Revolution Come, Revolution Go,” comprise the three centerpieces of the album from a musical arrangement standpoint.
About the song “Revolution Come,” Haynes explains, “It starts out as a swinging rock song, and then it goes into this blues shuffle that feels almost like a different composition altogether. It also has a jazz improv section, but ends up where it starts out. That’s indicative of what the message is: going through all of these changes and winding up where you began.”
Haynes goes on to say, “In many ways, the chemistry between the four of us is an extension of the chemistry that the original trio had. The approach we take to the music is the same uncompromising and adventurous approach, although it’s inevitable that the music is going to grow in different directions. The common thread is the influences we choose and the way we play together, which harkens back to how important improvisation was in most of the music we all love. At the end of the day, we’re friends. Making this music is satisfying in a way that’s completely different from any other project I’ve been a part of. That’s what inspires all of us.”