Old Gray Mule – Have Mercy | Album Review

oldgreymulecdOld Gray Mule – Have Mercy

Cash Munkey Records – 2014


11 tracks; 42 minutes

Old Gray Mule may be based in Texas but their heart is in the Mississippi Hill Country, heavily influenced by the music of RL Burnside and Junior Kimbrough and contemporaries like Cedric Burnside and Lightnin’ Malcolm (with whom comparisons may be drawn as OGM is also a drum/guitar duo).  This is their sixth album and was recorded in New Orleans with some occasional assistance from local musicians.  OGM  is CR Humphrey on guitar, bass and vocals and JJ Wilburn on drums and vocals, with Anthony Dopsie on accordion and Rockin’ Dopsie Jr. on frottoir on one track and a host of additional musicians appear on one other cut: Buckwheat Zydeco on accordion, Bobby O on saxes, Erich Morel-Ensminger on trombone and flugelhorn, Geoff Kent on trumpet and Jonathan Bachrack on bass.  The band tour in Australia quite often and Australians Chris Parkinson and Dom Turner play guitar on one track each.

Most of the album is in Mississippi Hill Country style, opening track “Skinny Woman” being typical with relentless drums and guitar; the vocals are a little low in the mix but this music is all about the rhythm, not the lyrics.  “Ain’t You Sorry” also has a repetitive guitar figure but is less frenetic, the two vocalists singing together.  “Don’t You Mind” drops the pace another notch as the vocalist sings in unison with the guitar, his partner singing harmony set against the main riff to almost hypnotic effect.  A positively jaunty riff opens “Alice Mae” who may well be a distant relative of Muddy Waters, the tune bouncing along with frantic drumming.  CR opens “All Night Long” with some atmospheric guitar before he finds another insistent core riff.

The hypnotic quality of title track “Have Mercy” is helped by the additional guitar of Chris Parkinson.  Very much the longest track on the album, the slow pace and quieter feel allow us to hear the two vocalists to advantage.  “Kimbro Style” is an instrumental which clearly pays tribute to one of OGM’s great influences whilst “Edge Of My Head” has CR playing some heavy riffs in Hendrix style, including some clear teases from “Voodoo Chile”.

The final three tracks offer a slightly different take on OGM as they are joined by an extended band of NO musicians for “Stop Playin’”, a straight ahead slow blues with Buckwheat Zydeco’s accordion providing almost a keyboard backdrop to CR’s solid blues playing and the horns adding warmth to the track.

More typical of NO is the instrumental “Ass On Fire” which zips along at a frantic pace with the accordion and frottoir pushing the duo to even greater speed of delivery.  The album closes with an acoustic piece, appropriately titled “Front Porch”, a conversation between CR and another slide player Dom Turner.  The tune is, in fact, really a re-working of “Rollin’ And Tumbin’” and finishes with some whistling from one of the participants.

Those who enjoy the simple pleasures of the Mississippi Hill Country style will find plenty to enjoy here.  They may also want to know that the band recorded an additional vinyl album at the same time which is available under the title “Hump Night 55”.

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