Today is a day Gov't Mule fans have been patiently waiting for. The band has released Sco-Mule, an archival two-disc live album recorded in the cities of Atlanta and Athens, Georgia in 1999 with jazz guitarist John Scofield and keyboardist Dan Matrazzo as special guests. At the time of this recording, Gov't Mule consisted of Warren Haynes on vocals and guitar, Matt Abts on drums, and the late Allen Woody on bass.
The shows on this album mark the first time Warren Haynes and John Scofield performed together live. In an interview with Billboard, Warren Haynes reflected on how Sco-Mule fit in the band's history:
I think there were some people in the audience that had no idea we were going to do that much instrumental music and that much jazz-influenced music... but it still sounds like us. When I hear it now, it sounds just as fresh as it did then. It captures us meeting for the first time, musically speaking. It started out as an experiment and turned into something that kind of changed the course of our music.
The album gets started off with "Hottentot," a funky number with undeniable jazzy tendencies. Matt Abts adds a skillful drum solo towards end that flows back into the song's main rhythm. Wayne Shorter's "Tom Thumb" follows with tight jazz rhythm guided by Allen Woody's thick bass. Dan Matrazzo's keyboard solo feels breezy and efficient. Scofield plays a solo that doesn't miss a note, and Warren's clean guitar tone is lively. The two guitarists can be heard feeding off each other's energy as the song draws to a close.
Sco-Mule features a number of cover tunes, including a couple by James Brown's old backing band, The J.B.'s. "Doing It To Death" starts with an experimental feel before settling into a groove. Warm keys from Dan Matrazzo give way to Scofield's funky wah-wah solo. Allen Woody holds the song's foundation down with his bass, allowing Warren to rip another impressive solo.
Another highlight is "Birth of the Mule," a track from Gov't Mule's 1998 album Dose. If Miles Davis were alive today, he'd be blown away by this 15 minute stew of jazz influenced guitar, prog rock, and exploratory jamming.
"Sco-Mule" features Dan's playful keyboards, and is pushed to the outer limits by Scofield's ability to create mind-bending sounds from his guitar. "Kind of Bird" is an 18 minute journey of stellar guitar work and flowing bass lines. The song also appears on Gov't Mule's first live album, Live From Roseland Ballroom and the Allman Brothers Band 1991 album, Shades of Two Worlds.
The second disc contains five bonus tracks, starting off with another tune by The J.B.'s: "Pass the Peas." The band replaces Fred Wesley's trombone parts with electrified guitar artistry and one of the album's best solos from Warren Haynes.
"Devil Likes It Slow" is anything but slow, as Scofield once again dazzles on guitar with intense fingerwork. The song shifts into a steady groove midway through, to which Dan Matrazzo lends out-of-space keyboard effects. Warren follows with some clever guitar work over a blues influenced groove similar to Sonny Boy Williamson's "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl."
The bonus material features alternate versions of "Hottentot" (bringing the funk back into the fold) and and "Kind of Bird" (with a swinging jazz feel). The ability for this collection of musicians to shift tempos during a song is amazing, as evidenced in "Kind of Bird." Each musician is given a chance to shine on their instrument, and a "The Wind Cries Mary" tease is one of many surprises found here. Closing out the album is an epic 23 minute version of "Afro Blue," which was written by Mongo Santamaría and popularized by John Coltrane.
These recordings almost never saw the light of day due to Allen Woody's unfortunate passing. Thankfully, they have been released, and Gov't Mule fans can now hear the magic that went on during the autumn of '99.
Gov’t Mule and John Scofield will head out on a 12-show U.S. tour next month in support of Sco-Mule. For Gov't Mule's latest music, news, and tour dates, check out their Zumic artist page.