For Gov't Mule, the period of transition has passed. The band is confidently settled into its second chapter, and has now set its controls for the future.
In fact, Asheville's own Warren Haynes, the Mule's singer, guitarist and main songwriter, says the band's upcoming disc, High & Mighty, slated for August release, "takes the band into new territory, and breaks a lot of new ground. It's probably the most diverse array of material we've ever recorded."
That could also be said of the band's last disc, Deja Voodoo, from 2004. Voodoo was the first album the group recorded with its new members -- bassist Andy Hess and keyboardist Danny Louis -- after a four-year period where the band toured with a rotating line-up of bass players following the 2000 death of original bassist Allen Woody. "But those guys were still relatively new at the time," says Haynes. "This time, we've had two years of playing together and finding some new grooves, and new melodic concepts."
Deja Voodoo was funkier, more uptempo and more groove-oriented than previous Mule discs, and Haynes says the group has pushed further into that funky terrain. "Yeah, absolutely, the new band tends to just be more groove-conscious, and the rhythm section is creating a different kind of feel than in the past," he stresses.
For the Mule, the notion of "the past" is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, not a day goes by that Haynes doesn't miss his old pal Woody -- who was also his bandmate in the Allman Brothers Band from 1989-'97, until they left that group to pursue Mule music full-time.
But he also doesn't want to stay stuck in the past, or feel compelled to re-create the bruising power-trio/blooze-metal sound of the Mule's first few records. Indeed, Haynes has been on the other side of that equation: When he took over the Allman Brothers' slide-guitar slot in '89, he was stepping into the shoes that had been filled by the iconic Duane Allman during that band's formative years.
In the original Mule, Woody gleefully embraced the more "active" bassman's role forged in such seminal power-trios as Cream and the Who. (Yes, the Who had four members, but only three instrumentalists.) Woody often pursued the thunderous, and more ambitious, improvisational approach of a Jack Bruce or John Entwhistle.
"That's not to say Woody couldn't play in the groove," says Haynes. "In fact, on Before Insanity (the Mule's last disc with Woody), half the tunes featured a fourth player, and Woody was already urging that we move more in the direction of a quartet."
Note: This is one of Bele Chere's two ticketed shows. Gov't Mule plays the Celebration Stage at the Renaissance Parking Lot 9-11 p.m. on Friday. Blues burner Tinsley Ellis (5-6:30 p.m.) and New Orleans rockers Cowboy Mouth (7-8:30 p.m.) open the show. $15.