Guitarist Warren Haynes is a busy man, a "man in motion" if you will, fronting his full-time band Gov't Mule as well as contributing his immense six-string skills to the Allman Brothers Band, and touring with the re-assembled Grateful Dead. For his first solo studio album since 1993's Tales of Ordinary Madness, however, Haynes takes a decidedly left turn, the guitarist toning down the blues and rock elements of his trademark sound in favor of an exciting amalgam of 1960s and '70s-era soul, funk, and R&B.
To this end, Haynes has assembled a firecracker band that includes bassist George Porter, Jr. of the Meters, keyboardist Ivan Neville, saxophonist Ron Holloway, keyboardist Ian McLagan (Faces, the Rolling Stones), and drummer Raymond Weber. Ruthie Foster provides wonderful backing vocals, the entire affair sounding like an album out of time, more suited to 1971 than 2011, strikingly similar to the blue-eyed soul of Delaney & Bonnie but with a bluesier feel and fretwork that easily matches Eric Clapton's contributions to the D&B sound.
Warren Haynes' Man In Motion
The album's title tracks opens with McLagan's tentative piano notes, upon which Haynes lays down a wiry guitar line before the band opens the throttle into a full-bore groove with soul and funk overtones. The song could easily be read as autobiographical, Haynes' line "life should be an adventure" the credo of the "man in motion," a fitting description for a musician like Haynes who ventures into so many stylistic forms. His fretwork on the song is spectacular in its range, Haynes' filling in layers with taut Memphis soul, Detroit blues, and Southern-fried funk riffs as the Grooveline Horns blast away in the distance.
There are plenty of other welcome surprises to be found on Man In Motion. An inspired cover of the William Bell/Booker T. Jones gem "Everyday Will Be Like A Holiday" is a gospel-blues drenched love song with a beautiful vocal performance, matching guitar licks, reverent hushed organ tones, and Neville's backing vocals providing a counterpoint. Haynes stretches out with his solo, and rather than isolate it in the mix, it soars confidently alongside the band's ramshackle instrumentation to great effect. "Sick Of My Shadow" inhabits a deep, funky groove with jolts of Holloway's saxophone, dueling keyboards that work quite effectively off each other, and Haynes' heartbreak lyrics and bluesy delivery.
With the hauntingly beautiful "Your Wildest Dreams," Haynes channels his inner-Otis and delivers what is probably the best vocal performance of his lengthy career. Rather than depending on his bluesy bark to carry him through, Haynes has taken notes from great soul men like Otis Redding and Solomon Burke, and really sings his ass off here. The nuanced guitarplay and the song's finely-sculptured rhythm track (including Weber's incredible fills and well-timed crashing drumbeats) perfectly support the vocals. By contrast, "Hattiesburg Hustle" showcases some of Haynes' best guitarwork. His gruff vocals are echoed by chiming keyboards and his guitars flit and dance across the mix on this tale of fame and the fall afterwards, Haynes' jagged tones supported by the subtle hand of rhythm guitarist Gordie Johnson.
Guitarist Dave Grissom adds his talents to "Take A Bullet," providing a fatter sound for this thick slab of mid-tempo Memphis soul. With a rhythm guitarist on board to pick up some of the slack, Haynes' vocals ride joyfully atop the Grooveline Horns, shards of razor-sharp guitar exploding from the soundtrack unexpectedly, Haynes' copping both great tone and a measure of elegance in his subtle selection of notes. The album-closing "Save Me" is an old-school soul tune with great dignity and presence, Haynes' considered vocals capturing a gospel-styled fervor, assisted by beautiful keyboards/piano play on this tear-jerking song of love and loss.
The Reverend's Bottom Line
Warren Haynes' instrumental skills have seldom been questioned, the guitarist capable of playing everything from honky-tonk hardcore country (with David Allen Coe) to psychedelic-rock (with the Grateful Dead) and heavy blues-rock (Gov't Mule, natch). With Man In Motion, however, Haynes' has taken a major step forward as an artist, refining and expanding his vocal palette to become more expressive and emotional, sounding more like those soul singers he admired growing up in North Carolina.
Haynes also shows a more mature and expressive form to his songwriting for Man In Motion, lyrically and musically, his words capturing more brilliant imagery and emotion while the music successfully mimics the 1960s soul sound while still sounding contemporary. With a few subtle changes in tone and shading evident in his guitar playing, Haynes has delivered a stunning performance with Man In Motion, an album that masterfully crosses the gap between rhythm and blues and soul music with the support of a sympathetic and talented band. (Stax Records, released May 10, 2011)
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