Jam band Gov’t Mule have drawn comparisons to the Grateful Dead, although their southern fried roots are closer to .38 Special and the Outlaws. Formed in 1994 by Allman Brothers‘ guitarist Warren Haynes and bassist Allen Woody, the group was seasoned from the get-go. The release of their self titled debut in 1995 cemented the side project of the two veterans as some of the best rock since the 1970s. To date, they have released 9 studio albums and a handful of live recordings.
The band’s latest, Dark Side of the Mule, is a tribute album to the legendary Pink Floyd. There are two versions of the record, the standard version and the deluxe release. The deluxe version offers more than Floyd’s songs as the band digs through their own archives to give us 90 minutes of originals and another 90 minutes of Floyd covers. Recorded in 2008 at the Orpheum Theatre in Boston, it captures the group in typical form as they slice through such songs as “Bad Little Doggie” and “Brand New Angel.” The band gives a nod to the blues on “Monkey Hill” and funks it up on “Kind of Bird” before launching into the Pink Floyd classic, “One of These Days.”
All of the Floyd material is done with respect and admiration as the Mule never strays far from the originals. They dig deep into Pink Floyd’s catalog to perform “Fearless” off the rather obscure album, Meddle. But from there on out, Gov’t Mule concentrates on the classics such as “Pigs on the Wing, Pt. 1” from the 1977 release, Animals.
“Wish You Were Here” is well represented as the Mule covers “Shine on You Crazy Diamond, Pt 1-5 and 6-9,” “Have a Cigar,” and the title track. The band also digs up some memorable moments from the Waters and Gilmore breakout album, Dark Side of the Moon, with covers of “Money,” “Breathe (In the Air),” “On the Run,” “Time” and “The Great Gig in the Sky.”
From the 1979 release of The Wall, Gov’t Mule offers up only one tune, “Comfortably Numb,” which rounds out the tribute. Warren follows the Floyd tune with a couple of Gov’t Mule originals, “Million Miles from Yesterday” and the low key “Blind Man in the Dark,” which was a rather dismal way to end the album.
Gov’t Mule does a great job emulating the songs of Pink Floyd. However, it’s too good, as the record sounds closer to a cover band and they don’t bend at all. I’m always open minded about cover albums, as long as the artist puts their own unique spin on the tunes. David Bowie achieved this on Pin Ups, John Lennon did it on Rock and Roll, Johnny Cash did it on his American recordings; sadly, Gov’t Mule failed at their attempt. You would be better served with Billy Sherwood’s 2006 release, Return to the Dark Side of the Moon. Better yet, just download the original albums.