Music News & Reviews

Critic's pick: Gov't Mule, 'Mulennium'

A full decade has passed since we've had to meddle with the term "Y2K." But thanks to the ever industrious Warren Haynes, we get to relive the changing of the millennium all over again by way of a glorious archival set from his blues- and boogie-fortified jam band Gov't Mule.

Titled Mulennium, this mammoth, three-disc live album takes us to the stage of The Roxy in Atlanta for a performance packed with surprise tunes and surprise guests. But it's mostly another exemplary live session that chronicles not only Haynes' typically resourceful guitar work but his seemingly boundless love of all things rock 'n' roll. He is a vigorous soldier carrying on his own versed sound, sure. But as the millennium hits and Mulennium unfolds, we are reintroduced to the often scholarly details he provides the music and musicians around him.

For instance, Mulennium's second disc features a solid half-dozen tunes with Little Milton. The Mississippi-born blues and soul great was 65 at the time of this performance (he died in 2005). Yet he sounds robustly youthful on Blues Is Alright and sagely intense on I Can't Quit You Baby. It's also a riot to hear Haynes rip into It Hurts Me Too with Milton at his side. This multi-generational blues exchange alone is reason enough to pick up Mulennium.

But the fun hardly stops there. A half-dozen Mule originals that peak with a soulful and solemn rendition of Life Before Insanity open disc one. The resulting lean, guttural jams remind us of the strength of the band's original trio lineup (rounded out by drummer Matt Abts and bassist Allen Woody). But the songs also are a setup for the inevitable midnight countdown.

When 2000 arrives, Haynes celebrates not with one of his own works, but with an ultra-respectful cover of the King Crimson prog-psychedelic classic 21st Century Schizoid Man, complete with blissfully distorted vocals. This isn't just some retro-rock party piece decked out for the occasion. Haynes' cover is an out-and-out tribute, a further reflection of his schooled musical roots.

The third disc is even more cover-savvy but looser. It's also almost disturbingly fortuitous. Eight months after the concert, Woody would be dead. Later, Bottle Rockets bassist Robert Kearns, who helps out on Mulennium during a show-closing version of Lynyrd Skynrd's Simple Man, would join the warhorse Southern rock band after its own bassist died.

But the music of Mulennium existed before all of that. Today, it stands as both a hopeful, guitar-charged document from an ever-crafty rock troupe and a richly celebratory overview from its peerless leader.