Review: Gov’t Mule feat. John Scofield – Sco-Mule (2015)


Two irresistible forces combine to move the immoveable instrumental object.


Gov’t Mule – a classic southern rock jam band in the vein of the Grateful Dead. John Scofield – jazz-rock guitarist extraordinaire and composer. Put them together and what do you get? It’s pretty obvious really when you think about it. That’s right,  it’s a jazz-rocking southern jamming live album of creatively monstrous proportions. What else could it be?!!

The least creative aspect about this whole album, which has been a decade in the making and releasing, is the title. Sco-Mule, whilst short and snappy doesn’t quite do justice the music that lies therein. That said, it’s hard to figure what other title could have been used to signify the creative coming together of two musical behemoths like the ‘Mule’ and Scofield.

As a band Gov’t Mule have been pushing the boundaries of rock music in the twenty years they have been together, and said anniversary of which is part of the reason for this release, to often stunning effect. They have left no stone unturned in pursuit of their unique musical vision.

The band are famous for never repeating themselves, either on record or in a live setting, and never is that more fully realised than on this release. Normally a live album from them on its own would be enough to get the excitement going but add the genius, a term not used lightly, of John Scofield, acting as very much the Yang to Mule’s Ying. Scofield himself is allergic to repetition and has plenty of experience in the ’jam band’ arena. All of this makes for one hell of a collaboration.

‘Mule are no stranger to jazz-influenced passages such as ‘Trane’, ‘Thelonius Beck’, etc but they have only, until now, been a visitor to the full instrumental experience. Now it appears they have set up shop. Not indefinitely but the landlord may have some trouble shifting them on if this is the result of their labours.

Opener “Hotentot” kicks of the party with a rollin’ jazz swing and infectious beat that moves along significantly quicker than its ten minute playtime would suggest.

Scofield’s guitar does things during this album that would make Joe Satriani envious. There a swirling swoops, punchy riffs and fantastical interludes all set around the rhythm, pace and energy of the band.

“Devil Likes it Slow” produces some of the more fiery guitar moments on the album but is neatly juxtaposed with the lighter moments and melodies and easy beats also on show within the same 13 minutes of mind-bending magnificence.

“Kind of Bird” lasts 18 minutes with not a second wasted. A blues-infused jazz riff sets the tone before an ethereal keyboard riff, worthy of the late Ray Manzarek or Jon Lord, takes over the baton for a few minutes before the guitar once again becomes central and then back and forth it sways and struts.

Haynes, Scofield and Matrazzo all get plenty of time within each composition to showcase their breath-taking skills and musicianship, but never to the detriment of the music as a whole, with some beautiful and passionate long solos that mere mortals could never hope to understand.

The understanding and chemistry of guitarist-singer Warren Haynes, drummer Matt Abts, bassist Allen Woody and key-master Dr Dan Matrazzo means they are able to pretty much do as they please in any genre and place the ‘Mule spirit right in its core.  

Some collaborations are never make it past the starting gate, others doomed to fail, some achieve good solid work, the very few achieve the kind of creatively sophisticated magic and musical masterpieces that has been displayed by this fantastic five. Break it down though and it’s just five great musicians playing great music and that’s all you need.

Sco-Mule is out now via Provogue/Mascot Label Group. Enrich yourself and go get it.

Donnie’s Rating: 10/10

The Players:
Warren Haynes – guitar
John Scofield – guitar
Dr. Dan Matrazzo – keyboards
Allen Woody – bass
Matt Abts – drums.

Track Listing
Tom Thumb
Doing It to Death
Birth of the Mule
Kind of Bird
Pass the Peas
Devil Likes It Slow
Hottentot (alternate version)
Kind of Bird (alternate version)
Afro Blue.

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