Album Review: Gov't Mule - Heavy Load Blues (2021)

By Paul Rigg

Mule Variation 

Heavy Load Blues (
12 November 2021; Fantasy Records) has been heralded as Gov’t Mule’sfirst-ever blues album”, but Warren Haynes participation in The Allman Brothers Band and his various collaborations with legend Little Milton, show that the band and its leader already have a strong blues pedigree.


Grammy-winner Haynes has here blended a few songs from his own pen with those made famous by Elmore James, Howlin’ Wolf, Junior Wells, Ann Peebles, and the Bobby “Blue” Bland; and also added some Tom Waits and Animals’ songs into the mix. 

“We didn’t make the decision to make a blues record until a few months before we embarked on this project but in some ways I have been preparing for this moment for years and years,”
says Haynes. “I didn’t know if it was gonna be a solo album or a Gov’t Mule record [but] this album gave us a mission. Although in some way it was ‘anything goes,’ we wanted to stay true to the spirit of the blues in a traditional sense.” Keyboardist Danny Louis enhanced this point in a separate interview, by noting: “we add the Mule stamp to it, so it is not [simply] a tribute-homage type of thing.”


The duo were joined in this project by longtime drummer Matt Abts and bassist Jorgen Carlsson, as well as co-producer John Paterno. The album was recorded ‘live’ on analog tape at The Power Station New England studio
in Connecticut, and involved using vintage amps, guitars, and a Neve 8068 MkII console (previously used by John Lennon, AC/DC and Nirvana).

One of the clear standout tracks is a cover of Junior Wells’ Snatch It Back and Hold It, which incorporates what sounds like an entirely different song in the middle, before seguing back to the classic hit.
On the video accompanying the song, Haynes swaps his Gibson Firebird for an SG in a confident and original cover version that supports the frontman’s affirmation that ‘anything was possible’ during its making.


However the fuse is lit on the album by a cover of Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell’s 1934 number Blues Before Sunrise, which sounds raw and authentic, and sets the tone for what is to come. The wonderfully laid-back Hole in My Soul follows; its heart-wrenching horn and Hammond organ parts providing the context for Haynes’ expressive vocal: “Walk around in a daze, people know the way I feel…”

Love Is A Mean Old World
honours Mules’ relationship with their friend Little Milton, while the band significantly change the mood with the inclusion of Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City (first recorded by the Bobby “Blue” Band); and then throw us a curveball with their cover of Make it Rain (written and recorded by Tom Waits for 2004’s Real Gone). 


Both Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City and I Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home, originally recorded by Ann Peebles, have been played live by Gov’t Mule, but it is good to now have them on acetate. More of a surprise is Mule’s fantastic take on Howlin’ Wolf’s I Asked Her For Water, She Gave Me Gasoline, as the band give the song a radical twist and turn it into something approaching a heavy rock number. Don’t miss it!

This version of Heavy Load Blues has 13 songs and runs for nearly 80 minutes, but the deluxe edition includes a further bunch of tracks, including covers of Muddy Waters, Savoy Brown, Sonny Boy Williamson and Otis Rush originals. Gov’t Mule are a band that both offer variety and are consistently generous in their output. As Haynes enthusiastically commented after he left the studio: I’m really psyched… I think we are walking out of here with more than one blues record in the can.”