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Southern Rock's Undying Appeal

The power trio Gov't Mule, Panic's Capricorn labelmates, are probably the most formally accomplished of southern rock's second generation, emanating from the Allman Brothers Band as they did. After an '80s stint in the Dickey Betts band with Mule drummer Matt Abts and then as a vital key to the Allmans' '90s revival with Mule bassist and songwriter Allen Woody, Carolinian singer-songwriter Warren Haynes has become a bona fide guitar god and, along with Marc Ford (and Aquarium Rescue Unit's Jimmy Herring), the greatest of the Duane Allman­inspired slide axmen. While nurturing the Mule side project, Haynes managed the heretofore impossible feat of stepping into Skydog's slot, putting his own stamp on the Allman tradition.

The Mule so far has succeeded in avoiding the quagmire of blues cliché: "Birth of the Mule," a perfect balance of the Coltrane-Miles jazz Haynes loves and metallically spiked country/blues rock, best points out the complicated path this band has chosen. Abts and Woody's steady propulsion and fleet-footed stomping are integral and essential, but the talking drum­type call and response that occurs within Haynes's guitar alone, which sings like a kora, is astonishing both on wax and especially in concert. Haynes started as a straight soul singer in love with Motown and the Sound of Philadelphia; he's as good a white blues singer as there's been since Gregg Allman, illuminating a path for mannered young Jonny Lang. And yes, Haynes, like Chris and Rich Robinson and ex-Crowe Johnny Colt particularly, is an unabashed funkateer. Twice this year, from the pulpit of Irving Plaza, Gov't Mule set fire to the city by having P-Funk's Bernie Worrell guest both as a soloist and with his mighty mighty Woo Warriors. These Worrell collaborations— on Little Feat's funky "Spanish Moon," "Afro Blue," "Doin' It to Death," and an otherworldly "Maggot Brain/Cortez the Killer" epic— have rendered tapers babbling madmen.

So go southbound toward an aural utopia of unlimited devotion! Thrown out of the nitty-gritty of post-deseg existence in America, these songs are hymns, paeans to a country and heritage fraught with ugliness and pride in equal measure. Grizzled holy fools and barefoot politicians, Duane Allman, Ronnie Van Zant, Chris Robinson, and their kindred spirits have stared down the barrel end of their identity. Embracing dark cultural legacies, they've dared to invent a transcendent southern man.

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