The follow-up to the band's Grammy-nominated 2021 album, Heavy Load Blues, Peace... Like A River includes appearances from Billy F Gibbons, Ivan Neville, Ruthie Foster, and more!
When Gov’t Mule’s Heavy Load Blues was released in late 2021, few who heard the album could have sensed that it was merely one part of a two-album project from Warren Haynes and his band mates. The sessions at Power Station New England yielded not only the 13 tracks of Heavy Load Blues (and eight bonus tracks), but also, another brand-new album in its entirety, which is Peace…Like a River.
While Heavy Load Blues was designed as a live-in-the-studio project focusing specifically on Mule’s exploration of the blues idiom, the artistic departure still fit seamlessly into the group’s body of work. A hit with fans and critics alike, the acclaimed album was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Traditional Blues Album category. Though it didn’t win, Mule’s 11th studio album was a defining musical statement, created during the period of lockdowns and social distancing. In the run-up to Heavy Load Blues, the members of Gov’t Mule – guitarist-vocalist Haynes plus Matt Abts on drums, bassist Jorgen Carlsson and keyboardist Danny Louis – were in the midst of a creative rush, and Haynes, in particular, had found himself with a bumper crop of new material.
“Stefani – my wife and our manager – had come up with the idea of doing the blues album,” Haynes recalls. The band long had such an idea in mind, but the time never seemed quite right…until it did. Still, Haynes had some reservations. “I said, ‘I love the idea, but I have all these new songs for a rock record.’” So, he offered an alternate idea: “We can do both at the same time,” he suggested. “We have the time. Why not?”
The songs were certainly there. “We went into the studio with about 40-ish original songs,” says Haynes. He knew that a handful of those would be destined for Heavy Load Blues, but the widely varied collection of new songs featured plenty of top-notch material that ventured far outside the blues style. And so, the band decided to make not one, but two new albums during the pandemic. It was important to Haynes, the rest of the band, and co-producer John Paterno that each of the two concurrent album projects have its own distinctive identity and character. Thanks to the novel approach Haynes had in mind, that wasn’t going to be a problem.
“We set up all the gear for the blues record in this small room with low ceilings,” Haynes says. A larger adjacent room was designated for the making of what would become Peace…Like a River. In that room, Haynes says, “we set up all of our normal Gov’t Mule toys.” And there was no gear shared between the two rooms: “everything was completely separate,” he emphasizes. “Amplifiers, instruments, microphones, miking techniques, the recording processes and sonic pictures were so different,” Haynes explains. “That really enabled us to separate [the two album projects] in our minds in a way that was crucial.”
The dual sessions proceeded with a character that deftly combined structure and spontaneity. “We would go in around noon and work on the new original material,” Haynes says. “We would record songs for Peace…Like a River until about 9:00 at night, and then we would take a break.” After dinner, the band would reassemble in the smaller room. “We’d play blues for the rest of the night,” Haynes says. “It was a way of cleansing our palate: ‘Now, we don’t have to think about all these complex arrangements and approaches. We can just shut our brains off and play blues.’” That was the guiding mindset for each day’s time in the studio. And, Haynes enthuses, “it turned out to be really productive and inspiring.”
The songs that would come out of the big-room sessions explored the many sides of Gov’t Mule. Concise songcraft coexists seamlessly with the band’s trademark instrumental journeys. Songs longer than pop convention are somehow still compact: they’re explorative but never meandering; the tunes are at once both wide-ranging and tightly focused.
The album brings together all of the qualities that have earned Gov’t Mule the beloved stature they enjoy today. And the burst of songwriting energy behind it is a key to its resonance with the listening audience. “I had this opportunity – and the inspiration – to write more than I’ve written since I was in my early 20s,” Haynes explains. “I think that a lot of the world – and especially the music business – has given up on the idea of the integrity of longer songs and performances.”