(All Album Reviews by Scratch)
This is a dark album. Let's begin with that. Musically and lyrically speaking, there's not much to celebrate in the world of the Mule. Sure, they've now got a permanent bass player (Andy Hess) and they've added keyboardist Danny Louis as the official fourth Mule, so they're back in action as a recording/touring band, not just Haynes and Abts jamming with various musicians. Not that the Deep End series wasn't an amazing farewell to one of the baddest bassmen ever, it's just good to have the band back in full business again.
But, this is a dark album. It starts with a muscular start/stop rocker that sets the mood ("Bad Man Walking"), and that mood shifts throughout the CD from anger to regret to sadness, back to anger, then at last, hope - albeit possibly in vain.
Louis instantly stakes his place in the group. You suddenly forget he hasn't been there all along, he fits that well. All through DV if he's not sneaking in and out of spaces previously left empty by the guitar/bass/drum format, he's adding color and textures that bring a whole 'nother dimension to the Mule's sound. Listen to the work he does on "No Celebration", one of the many highlights of the album. Or the incredible 11-minute "Silent Scream" where he compliments the rest of the band inside a Led/Floyd-like groove.
Speaking of Zeppelin, the Mule gives quite possibly their biggest nod to the Hammer Of The Gods on "Lola Leave Your Light On". A riff so Pagean you wish Percy would've stopped by the studio to take the vocal.
Another influence surfaces on "Perfect Shelter" as Haynes gives a nod to ZZ Top by re-working the "Waitin' On The Bus" riff into a much better environment.
And how about the man with the most pressure - Andy Hess? Don't worry. He more than holds his own. While I will not dare compare him with Woody, I will say that there were moments Hess made my toes curl like any bassist should when playing with the Mule. Can't wait to see him lay down a groove live.
And oh yeah - this IS a dark album. Overtly politically charged in places ("Mr. Man" - a burning rocker), and mournfully reflective in others ("No Celebration", "My Seperate Reality"). Songs go from full-tilt rockers to late-night contemplation to a prog/country-ish weeper ("Blood And Wine").
In the end, the Mule shows that they can take a hit and not only come back from it, but build upon what came before with a rejuvenated sound, spirit, and purpose. Just don't expect to be thanked for throwing this on at your next outdoor pig pickin'.
And by the way...is Warren singin' to Dickey Betts on "Little Toy Brain"? Hmmm...