Hugh Pool acknowledges that there’s a bit of symmetry in the scheduled release of “Mulebone Live: Made in The Mitten.”
The blues duo of Pool on vocals, blues harp, steel and cigar box guitars and John Ragusa harmonizing on a collection of silver and bamboo flutes, penny whistles and even a conch shell recorded their first live album last July during a 14-date trip through Michigan.
The first two shows that the new album will be available happen to be Saturday’s date at The Livery in Benton Harbor and Sunday’s gig at Rock n’ Road Cycle in South Haven.
“It’s a little tip of the hat to the great reception we’ve had in the state over the past 10 years,” Pool says by phone while traveling by train outside of Albany, N.Y. “It just seemed like it was the right moment to do it. ... We do a lot of different stuff playing live, stuff you’re never going to do in the studio and songs you would never record in the studio like ‘Voodoo Child,’ the Hendrix tune or John Mayall’s ‘Room to Move.’”
Then there’s the old spiritual and traditional show closer, “Jesus On The Mainline.”
“I hate to say but on the live record it’s 16 minutes long,” Pool says, laughing. “It goes from ‘Jesus On The Mainline’ into this old song called ‘Bottleneck Blues’ into ‘Amazing Grace’ and then an audience participation thing and then a coda section that’s a bit different, but it all flows. ... I think people can forgive that in the context of a live record.”
Mulebone formed in 1996, shortly after Ragusa approached the stage with flute in hand to ask Pool, who was playing a club just outside New York City, if he could sit in.
Since then the blues outfit has been turning heads with their own brand of slide guitar boogies, one-chord trance riffs a la Howlin’ Wolf, the uptempo rags of the Rev. Gary Davis, and country blues of all shapes and colors.
Their original cassette release, “Mulebone,” was recorded on ADAT in Pool’s apartment and sold several hundred copies. Then in 1998 the duo took half the music that was on the original cassette, recorded five new songs and put out a self-titled CD featuring their signature laughing donkey on the cover.
The retooled “Mulebone” album spent 15 weeks in the Top 100 albums on the Americana roots chart and got the band noticed by Alan Pepper, owner of the New York City venue The Bottom Line, where they began a long string of shows.
After a long recording drought and stints in various other projects, Mulebone returned to the studio for 2010’s “New Morning,” 2011’s “Bluesville Sessions” and 2014’s “Keep On Movin’,” which is their latest studio album.
Several tracks from “Keep On Movin’” remain in the live set, including the title track and “She Wants My Name.” Pool also says the duo has been road testing some new material for “Tear for the Miseries,” which is expected to be released in 2019.
“We’ve recorded some of it (while we were making the live record) but we decided not to do both,” Pool says. “We want to take a little more time with it. ... The overall feeling of the record is very gospel influenced. ... It’s a look at disenfranchisement. ... The most important thing an artist can do is figure out what they are trying to say. If you don’t know what you are trying to communicate why go through it?”
In the meantime, Pool says, he and Ragusa are gearing up for a full month on the road starting this weekend.
“We’ve done this for so long now it’s a little bit of exciting,” Pool says. “It’s like, all right, we’re ready for another set of adventures.”
Contact: jbonfiglio@TheHP.com, 932-0364, Twitter: @HPBonfiglio