So here are Gov’t Mule, going back to the vaults for their next release, a set of recordings dating from 1994, it’s title derived from the Florida studio where they laid the tracks down.
Right from the opening track, ‘Blind Man In The Dark’, the post-Hendrix, post-Cream vibe is apparent, with lots of syncopation and counterpoint going on between the trio, and an occasional air of free jazz that brings to mind the comment Jack Bruce was wont to make about Cream, “It became almost like an Ornette Coleman band, with Eric not knowing he was Ornette Coleman, Ginger and me not telling him.” The following ‘Rocking Horse’ continues in the same vein, while also drawing in Southern rock stylings that reflect Mule's connection to the Allman Brothers Band.
|Gov't Mule - "Where's the rest of the gear?"|
Two other things stand out immediately though – the quality of the production, and Warren Haynes’ vocals. For all that these were ostensibly demo recordings, the clarity and separation in the sound is startling, for which credit is presumably due to the sound engineer Bud Snyder. Whether it’s Haynes’ fuzzy riffing, the twanging bass of Allen Woody, or Matt Abts’ circling of his drum kit to fill in the gaps, everything has the space to be heard. Haynes’ voice, meanwhile, strongly evokes the late Jimmy Dewar with its rich, soulful quality, and that's a hell of a recommendation.
They ease off on the jazzy pyrotechnics after these openers, and get into some bluesier terrain, to especially good effect on a cover of Free’s ‘Mr Big’, on which they demonstrate an earthy quality. It’s a song choice tailor-made for Haynes’ voice, and just one instance of the marvelous rubber band textures of Woody’s bass. Similar qualities are evident a couple of tracks later on the slow blues of ‘Mother Earth’, where keep it simple as they work around a sturdy riff, with Haynes injecting some tasty but disciplined lead guitar.
A straightforward reading of ZZ Top’s ‘Just Got Paid’ seems a bit redundant, enjoyable though it may be, especially when Haynes kicks in some nifty slide guitar, but ‘Left Coast Groovies’ takes a more interesting route with its twisted rock-funk groove, Woody’s bass big and dirty and to the fore.
The aforementioned Jimmy Dewar carried out vocal duties for Robin Trower back in the day, of course – another neo-Jimi guitar practitioner. And there are some echoes of Trower in the closing ‘World Of Difference’, the dreamy, spacey ambience of its opening recalling ‘Bridge Of Sighs’. (In actual fact the album closes with two different versions of ‘World Of Difference’.)
All in all The Tel-Star Sessions is more than just a treat for the completists, even if it has been dug out from the back of the archives. It stands up well on its own account, and if its heart is deeply wedded to the late 60s it still manages to sound fresh and contemporary. Well worth a whirl.
The Tel-Star Sessions is released by Provogue/Mascot on 5 August.