Gov’t Mule, ‘Dark Side of the Mule’ – Album Review
The best cover songs build in a personal viewpoint, using early inspirations as a foundation for something that feels both old and new. Gov't Mule's Dark Side of the Mule, recorded at Boston’s Orpheum Theatre on Halloween 2008, has done just that with the music of Pink Floyd.
Perhaps as expected, the bulk of this material – performed in its entirety as part of Mountain Jam in June 2015 – is derived from 1973's Dark Side of the Moon. But those six songs are coupled with a generous selection from elsewhere, including four tracks from 1975's Wish You Were Here, "Comfortably Numb" from 1979's The Wall, "Pigs on the Wing" from Animals and earlier cuts like "One of These Days" and "Fearless."
The album's best moments, in fact, arrive courtesy of Wish You Were Here, rather than Dark Side. Most striking is the title-track recitation, as leader Warren Haynes was still trying to make sense of the sudden death of Allen Woody, a band mate in the Allman Brothers Band and co-founder of Gov't Mule. This Floyd-focused Boston show, in fact, marked just the second with new bassist Jorgen Carlsson. A similar sense of molten pain surrounds their extended take on "Shine on You Crazy Diamond." Elsewhere, drummer Matt Abts adds a growling funk to "Have a Cigar," yet another song from Wish You Were Here – but only after hilariously changing one of its signature lines to "By the way, which one's the Mule?"
Sawhorses like "Comfortably Numb" and "Money" are given new splashes of color, be that through the use of a slide on the former or the blues-based gravy that's generously poured over the latter. Keyboardist Danny Louis even adds an appropriately noodle-y synth bridge to connect "Breathe" and "On the Run," from Dark Side. At the same time, the presence of Machan Taylor and Durga McBroom – both of whom are veteran backup singers from Pink Floyd tours – keeps Dark Side of the Mule grounded in its source material. Haynes even switches from Gibson to Fender, all with an eye toward capturing the feel of David Gilmour's original guitar work.
In the end, Gov't Mule's plugged-in take on "Fearless" (from 1971's Meddle) may be the best encapsulation of the way Dark Side of the Mule pays tribute to the past without being shackled to it. As with so much of this project, at times it sounds like an uncanny replication – and then an electrifying riff shakes you awake.
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