This could very easily be the album that puts Gov't Mule over the top. They've been over the top for several years now in the eyes of their legions of fans, but commercial success has not yet been a part of their vocabulary. Sure, both guitarist Warren Haynes and bassist Allen Woody have enjoyed major success during their eight-year tenure as members of the South's most enduring group, the Allman Brothers Band, but those days are now behind them, and the power-trio, which also features the apt Matt Abts on drums, has headed into the trenches loaded down with full artillery.
Hot on the heels of last summer's collector's edition re-release of Live with a Little Help from Our Friends -- which chronicled the band's unprecedented New Year's Eve 1998 performance in Atlanta, GA in a two-disc set released in March 1999, only to be reissued in its full-length, uncut four-disc glory later that year -- the Mule recorded what by all accounts seems to be their most creative and intelligent studio album to date. Produced by Michael Barbiero (Blues Traveler, Guns n' Roses), Life Before Insanity includes several songs that fans have been hearing in concert for well over a year, including the haunting title track and "Wandering Child," a powerful tune that has opened many Gov't Mule shows with its distinctive bassline, oddball time signature, and powerful dynamics. "No Need to Suffer" is another Warren Haynes-penned gem. It's been a regular on the Mule set list for a while, as has "Lay Your Burden Down," which sounds quite a bit different here than it did live. Both versions are great, but on the CD, Haynes shares vocals with the plenary Ben Harper, making this one a real treat. Other special guests on the album are former Allman Brothers bandmate Johnny Neel, who plays the keyboards with bucket loads of soul and finesse, and Hook Herrera, a master of the harmonica.
Both "Tastes Like Wine" and "In My Life" (a Haynes original, not the Lennon-McCartney song) are highly effective ballads, and "Fallen Down" blends influences from early Traffic with Mule originality to create a song that is destined for radio, filled with magnetic hook lines, such as "Amazing grace is such a lonely place to heroes like you and me." Already receiving airplay, the first single from the album is "Bad Little Doggie," a rocker heavily reminiscent of early ZZ Top. All 11 of the tracks are good. Actually, there are 12 if you include the "hidden" track "If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day," a blues rocker on which Haynes sings through some sort of megaphone sounding device.