Review: Gov’t Mule – The Telstar Sessions (2016)


In the world of Bluesy Southern rock Gov’t Mule are kings but there was a time when they were mere pretenders to the throne.  This latest release provides a look back to where it all began.

The album consists of 10 tracks that formed the band’s very first, and never-before-released, demos made in June 1994 at Tel-Star Studios in Florida. They have been mixed and mastered anew however the rawness and energy of those early days are still clearly heard and, if anything, enhanced.

This was the original line-up of Warren Haynes, Allen Woody & Matt Abts.  It was the line-up for the first three studio albums and is still considered by many to be the definitive line-up.  Allen Woody tragically passed away in 2000 at the age of 44, and his place was eventually taken for a while by former Black Crowes bassist Andy Hess.

Originally the band was created as a side project for Haynes & Woody whilst on downtime from the Allman Brothers Band and they could not have foreseen the influence and the longevity of the band 20 years on. Drummer Abts was a former bandmate of Haynes in the Dickey Betts Band and was an immediate natural fit for the southern jam rock stylings of the band.

The soulful but hard-hitting “Blind Man In The Dark” is the opener and it would become one of their signature tracks over the years.  The quality of the musicianship is evident from the off and although it differs markedly from the eventual album version (on 1998’s Dose), it does display the original grit and intensity of it’s origins.

“Rocking Horse” is a track penned with Haynes & Woody’s dayjob partners Gregg Allman and Jack Pearson.  It’s a down and dirty blues rock number that allows for some Haynes guitar wizardry inbetween the pounding groove and rhythmic backbeats.

Two covers are included on the album, the first is a slow funked-up version of Free’s “Mr. Big” that stays true to the original but is given added chutzpah by the talented trio and then ZZ-Top get a Mule kick to the face with their rendition of the Texan’s classic “Just Got Paid”.

There are two versions of “World of Difference” to savour and it may be down to the connoisseur amongst you to find all the subtle changes but both interpretations hit the target. The distorted vocals of “Monkey Hill” add another dimension to a hard blues stomp that sounds the dirtiest thing this side of the swamp.

As their first foray into the studio as a band this stands as a very fine testament as an opening glimpse into the workings of a band that would come to stand out amongst their peers and define, then re-define, the blues rock landscape.

Donnie’s Rating: 9/10

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