Rock ’n’ roll music has always been a reflection of the times, and the new Gov’t Mule album, Revolution Come… Revolution Go, is no exception.
With Revolution Come… Revolution Go, to be released June 9th on Fantasy Records, the band again sets the tone for their legacy with its cleverly-crafted songs, intelligent lyrical commentary, and downright incendiary playing. It’s those traditions, combined with an observant eye on the present, that define their tenth full-length studio effort.
“It was very poignant that we went into the studio in Austin, Texas, to begin recording on Election Day,” Grammy Award-winning vocalist and guitar legend Warren Haynes recalls of the November 2016 recording sessions. “Like most people, we really had no idea that the election was going to turn out the way it did. That changed everything – from a lyrical perspective. It’s not a political record, per se, but there are political connotations. There are also love songs, relationship songs, and songs about working together to make this a better planet. It covers a lot of ground, but it definitely starts and ends as a rock ’n’ roll record. It’s all within the realm of what we do, but it explores a lot of territory and, in some cases, territory we’ve never explored before.”
Steeped in the roots and mystique of rock, blues, soul, and jazz, the quartet — Haynes, Matt Abts [drums], Danny Louis [keyboards, guitar, and backing vocals], and Jorgen Carlsson [bass] — is equally recognized for its stirring songwriting and storytelling as it is for the improvisational virtuosity that fuels their countless live performances. Their music has galvanized a fan base of millions around the world, reaching a place of preeminence as one of the most timeless, revered and active bands in the world whose spot amongst rock titans remains unshakable.
This record threads together moments of soul, country, and tried-and-true virtuosic, vibrant, and vital rock. A patchwork of styles, it proudly ushers along Gov’t Mule’s next phase.
“One of our missions has always been to stay together as a band long enough to bring all of these different influences to the surface,” Haynes goes on. “Blues, funk, and soul are a part of what we do. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, the umbrella of rock music had room for so many different stylistic approaches – bands that were worlds apart were still considered ‘rock’ bands. We’ve always taken a cue from that. And although I’ve said it previously about other Gov’t Mule releases, this is probably the most diverse record we’ve ever made. That’s really important to us.”
The first of two lead singles, the soulful “Sarah, Surrender,” sees Haynes’ simmering vocal delivery take center stage over a groove punctuated by congas, organ, a female back-up chorus, and jazz-y guitar licks. Evoking Curtis Mayfield and Al Green, it illuminates yet another musical facet of the band.
“‘Sarah, Surrender’ was the last song written for the project,” Haynes explains, “and was recorded in New York City in January , after the Austin sessions were done. It seemed like the missing piece to the puzzle.”
Meanwhile, the other lead single, “Stone Cold Rage,” packs a walloping punch. An ominous riff gives way to furiously funky wah-pedal cries as Haynes screams, “Mama’s gonna be a martyr.”
“‘Stone Cold Rage’ represents the divide that’s going on in our country right now,” Haynes points out about the song. “Even though it was written before the election, it was written knowing that whichever way the results went, we were going to have close to fifty percent of the nation very angry. Musically, it’s an aggressive up-tempo rock song that reflects the anger of the lyrics, but with a sense of sarcasm and humor.”
Whether it’s the rustic steel guitar of the countrified road song “Traveling Tune” or the dark twists and turns of the nearly nine-minute “Thorns Of Life,” each moment of the album comprises an unpredictable journey that somehow adds to the overall flow. Says Haynes, “We still believe in the concept of an ‘album’ having its own collective personality.”
After having invited 11 guest vocalists to offer different interpretations of the songs on their last studio effort, Shout!, the band wanted to keep the guests to a minimum this time around, however, Jimmie Vaughan turns up for a sizzling cameo on the super-charged “Burning Point.” Haynes says, “When I first wrote ‘Burning Point,’ it had more of a New Orleans feel to it. But when we got into the studio in Austin to record it, it took on more of a Texas vibe, and Jimmie really added to that.”
Longtime collaborator Gordie Johnson joined Haynes as co-producer for six tunes, while the iconic Don Was co-produced the powerful and moving “Dreams & Songs” and “Pressure Under Fire” along with the frontman. The latter explodes into a lyrical guitar solo as Haynes urges, “We’ve got to get out of this mess.”
“‘Pressure Under Fire’ is essentially another political song, but it comes from the standpoint that we’re all in this together, and it’s up to us to make it work,” Haynes states. “The opening line, ‘Just another song about the same thing,’ recognizes this is a message that we’ve heard before, but it needs to be said—especially now.”
Another politically-charged song, “Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground,” is the reworking of the traditional blues instrumental originally recorded by Blind Willie Johnson, to which Haynes added lyrics and the band turned into an epic gospel rock closer. “Dark Was The Night,” along with the aforementioned “Thorns Of Life” and “Revolution Come, Revolution Go,” comprise the three centerpieces of the album from a musical arrangement standpoint.
About the song “Revolution Come,” Haynes explains, “It starts out as a swinging rock song, and then it goes into this blues shuffle that feels almost like a different composition altogether. It also has a jazz improv section, but ends up where it starts out. That’s indicative of what the message is: going through all of these changes and winding up where you began.”
Haynes goes on to say, “In many ways, the chemistry between the four of us is an extension of the chemistry that the original trio had. The approach we take to the music is the same uncompromising and adventurous approach, although it’s inevitable that the music is going to grow in different directions. The common thread is the influences we choose and the way we play together, which harkens back to how important improvisation was in most of the music we all love. At the end of the day, we’re friends. Making this music is satisfying in a way that’s completely different from any other project I’ve been a part of. That’s what inspires all of us.”
OLD CROW MEDICINE SHOW
Ketch Secor (fiddle, harmonica, guitar, banjo, vocals) - Morgan Jahnig (upright bass) - Cory Younts (mandolin, keyboards, drums, vocals) - Jerry Pentecost (drums, mandolin) - Mike Harris (slide guitar, guitar, mandolin, banjo, dobro, vocals)
Mason Via (guitar, gitjo, vocals)
On their whirlwind new album Paint This Town, Old Crow Medicine Show offer up a riveting glimpse into American mythology and the wildly colorful characters who populate it. The most incisive body of work yet from the Nashville-based roots band—a two-time Grammy Award-winning juggernaut whose triumphs include induction into the Grand Ole Opry and double-platinum certification for their iconic hit single “Wagon Wheel”—the album pays homage to everyone from Elvis Presley to Eudora Welty while shedding a bright light on the darker aspects of the country’s legacy. Fueled by Old Crow’s freewheeling collision of Americana, old-time music, folk, and rock & roll, Paint This Town relentlessly pulls off the rare and essential feat of turning razor-sharp commentary into the kind of songs that inspire rapturous singing along.
In a major milestone for Old Crow, Paint This Town marks the first album created in their own Hartland Studio: an East Nashville spot the band acquired in early 2020 then transformed into a clubhouse-like space custom-built to suit their distinct sensibilities. “Over the years we’ve spent a lot of time and money in professional studios, but this was the first time we’d worked in our own place since back in the late ’90s, when we’d hang a microphone from the rafters and record a cassette on our TASCAM 4-track,” says frontman Ketch Secor. Co-produced by the band and Matt Ross-Spang (a producer/engineer/mixer who’s worked with the likes of John Prine and Jason Isbell), Paint This Town also took shape from a far more insular process than their past work with such producers as Don Was and Dave Cobb (who helmed Old Crow’s most recent effort, 2018’s widely acclaimed Volunteer). Not only instrumental in allowing the band a whole new level of creative freedom, that self-contained approach helped to revive a certain spirit of pure abandon. “Doing it ourselves was a lot more fun with a lot less stress or pressure, and because of that we were way less precious about it,” says Secor. “It all just felt less like a chore and more like a complete joy.”
The seventh studio album from Old Crow, Paint This Town opens on its title track: a raucously swinging anthem that fully embodies that joyful energy. With its fable-like account of the band’s carefree troublemaking over the last two decades, the track showcases Secor’s uncanny knack for packing so much detailed storytelling into a single line (e.g., “We were teenage troubadours hopping on box cars for a hell of a one-way ride”). “Our band has always drawn its inspiration from those elemental American places, where water towers profess town names, where the Waffle House and the gas station are the only spots to gather,” says Secor. “This is the scenery for folk music in the 21st century, and the John Henrys and Casey Joneses of today are the youth who rise up out of these aged burgs undeterred, undefeated, and still kicking.”
Although much of Paint This Town looks outward to examine the American experiment, Old Crow never shy away from the intensely personal. Written soon after the demise of Secor’s marriage, “Bombs Away” puts a devil-may-care twist on the classic divorce song, while the gently galloping “Reasons to Run” invokes the Lone Ranger in confessing to the emotional toll of too much time on the road. And on tracks like “Used to Be a Mountain,” Old Crow turn their lived experience into a lens for illuminating larger-scale problems affecting the modern world. “I spent about 25 years of my life very close to the region of Appalachia where strip-mining occurs, which is really dangerous work and destructive for all living things,” says Secor of the song’s origins. Partly informed by his memories of hitchhiking around coal country as a teenager, “Used to Be a Mountain” emerges as a galvanizing meditation on environmental catastrophe, boldly propelled by Secor’s frenetic vocal flow and firebrand poetry (“From the fat cats, race rats, big Pharma, tall stacks/They’re the ones digging the hole/All the way down to Guangzhou”).
In one of the album’s most potent segments, Paint This Town delivers a trio of songs that delve into matters of race and hate and systems of power, embedding each track with Old Crow’s vision for a more harmonious future. On “DeFord Rides Again,” for instance, the band serves up a gloriously stomping tribute to legendary harmonica player DeFord Bailey (the first Black star of the Grand Ole Opry, who was eventually banned from the show and left in exile). “One of the things that inspired that song was the experiences we’ve had traveling all over the world and seeing the people who take country music into their hearts,” says Old Crow upright bassist Morgan Jahnig. “It’s the entire spectrum of humanity—but when you look at the people making country music, it tends to be pretty monochromatic. If we really want to push music forward, we need to let all kinds of people have a voice.” Featuring Mississippi-bred musician Shardé Thomas on fife (a piccolo-like instrument often used in military bands), the soul-stirring “New Mississippi Flag” dreams up an insignia that truly honors the state’s rich cultural heritage (“She’ll have a stripe for Robert Johnson/And one for Charlie Pride”). “We’re living in a time in which there’s a great undoing of the mythologies that were created in order for the South to alter its view of itself, and with that undoing comes a repurposing,” Secor points out. Meanwhile, “John Brown’s Dream” unfolds as a swampy and smoldering portrait of the notorious radical abolitionist and his brutally violent attempt at rebellion.
Throughout Paint This Town, Old Crow bring their spirited reflection to an endlessly eclectic sound, spiking their songs with elements of everything from gospel (on “Gloryland,” a heavy-hearted lament for our failure to care for each other) to Southern highlands balladry (on “Honey Chile,” a melancholy love song graced with soaring harmonies and swooning fiddle melodies). That deliberate unpredictability has defined Old Crow since their earliest days, when they got their start busking on the streets with pawnshop-bought instruments. Through the years, they’ve continually breathed new life into their sound by inviting new musicians into the fold; to that end, Paint This Town marks the first album to include Jerry Pentecost (drums, mandolin), Mike Harris (slide guitar, guitar, mandolin, banjo, dobro, vocals), and Mason Via (guitar, gitjo, vocals). “We were auditioning new members during the process of putting the studio together—so if you signed up to be in this band, you got handed a paint roller and a list of songs to learn,” says Secor. As they got Hartland Studio up and running, Old Crow also launched the Hartland Hootenanny: an hour-long variety show livestreamed every Saturday night during lockdown, with guest appearances from the likes of Amythyst Kiah, Billy Strings, Marty Stuart, and The War and Treaty. “The Hartland Hootenanny kept us joyous during what could’ve been a very bleak time,” Secor says. “It helped us process the experience of Covid and George Floyd’s death and all the urgent cries for change, but at the same time we talked about full moons and football and summer camp—which in a way symbolizes everything we are as a band.”
Indeed, Old Crow ultimately consider that mingling of the joyous and the profound to be the very life force of their collective. “At the end of the day, we’re still just trying to stop you on the street and get you to put a dollar in the guitar case,” says Jahnig. “Then once we’ve got your attention, we’re gonna tell you about things like the opioid epidemic and the Confederate flag and what’s happening with the environment—but we’re gonna do it with a song and dance. We feel a great obligation to talk about the more difficult things happening out there in the world, but we also feel obligated to make sure everyone’s having a great time while we do it.”
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