Warren Haynes' long-anticipated solo album, Man In Motion (Concord Records), is a timeless collection of songsthat crackle with modern vitality yet draw on his deepest roots as an artist.
The disc pumps fresh blood into the heart of soul and blues,stoked by Haynes's Herculean prowess as both a powerhouse singer and guitarist— a reputation he's earned as a member of three of the greatest live groups inrock history: The Allman Brothers Band, The Dead and his own Gov't Mule.
In a sense, the vocal-driven Man In Motion is an album he's been aching to make since he firstdreamed of becoming a musician.
"Before I started playing guitar, I wanted to be a singer,right from the age of five or six," the rock ‘n' roll legend regales. "And whatI wanted to sing was soul music. My brothers and I had just a handful ofalbums. First they were the ‘Best of' collections by Sam & Dave, WilsonPickett, James Brown, the Temptations, Aretha Franklin...and eventually albums bythe three Kings of the blues, Freddie King, B.B. King and Albert King. In fact,it was hearing B.B. and Freddie that made me realize you could be a greatsinger and a great guitar player. SoI decided to model myself after them."
For Man In Motion,Haynes draws on his dynamic gravel-and-honey voice and stunning six-stringsyntax to create melodies that frame the past with the present, fusing enduringthemes of love, desire and loss with bristling undeniably contemporary energy.
Tunes like Haynes' uplifting Albert King influencedstring-bender "The River's Gonna Rise" — an anthem of hope for these tumultuoustimes — and the poignant narrative "A Friend To You" ring with the samestraight-talking authenticity as William Bell's Stax-label jewel "Every Day isa Holiday," the disc's sole cover.
"In soul and blues, the vocal is really the centerpiece,"Haynes explains. "And it's not about irony or smoke-and-mirrors. It's abouttelling real stories about everyday people in an honest way. Honesty in musictrumps everything else."
Despite Man In Motion'ssharp focus on his singing, there's no shortage of numbers like "Sick of MyShadow," which straddles the terrain of Haynes' guitar universe, blending rock,soul, R&B and jazz in its introspective mix.
Fans of Haynes' growling, distinctive signature six-stringapproach in Gov't Mule and the Allman Brothers will notice a subtler — if noless adventurous — palette of guitar tones on Man in Motion.
"I was going for a kind of pre-rock sound," Haynes explains."These songs based in soul and blues really require cleaner tones to payrespect to the era that inspired them and to really get to the emotional heartof the matter. I used the wah-wah and a few other effects, but there's a lot ofB.B. King, Albert King and Freddie King influence on this album from a guitarstandpoint."
Although Haynes employed his Gibson signature model Les PaulStandard guitar for some numbers, a clutch of vintage Gibson semi-hollowbodyinstruments — ES-335 and ES-345 models from his extensive collection — accountfor most of the tracks, plus an archtop hollowbody D'Angelico that inspired hisjazz break on "Sick of My Shadow."
As usual, Haynes improvised his solos, playing live totwo-inch tape along with the core band of fellow virtuosos that he assembled atWillie Nelson's Pedemales Studio near Austin, where the past few Gov't Mule CDswere also recorded.
"I wanted to record this album just like the classic recordsthat influenced me," he notes. "The band played together on all the songs andwe avoided overdubs. It was important to catch the energy and emotion of musicbeing made live by a group of great musicians."
His cast of world-class players includes a trio of NewOrleans R&B kingpins: bass legend George Porter, Jr. of the Meters, keyboardist-singerIvan Neville and drummer Raymond Webber, who helped Haynes nail Man in Motion's R&B-, blues- andsoul-soaked grooves. Veteran Faces and Rolling Stones pianist Ian McLagan,folk-blues sensation Ruthie Foster and tenor saxist Ron Holloway joined them.Foster and Neville are perfect vocal foils for Haynes' own blend of sugar andgravel, and as a threesome they conjure harmonies that sound right out of theStax and Hi Records Memphis soul playbooks.
"For this kind of music," Haynes adds, "that chemistry isessential. I was really fortunate. I put my wish list of musicians together andthey were all available and excited about the project." But it's really Haynes'hard work — his constant motion — rather than good fortune that has taken thiscreative dynamo to the zenith of his career.
After all, it's been 18 years since he last entered thestudio to record a solo album, but Haynes is no slacker. He has been busy. Verybusy. As rock's foremost MVP singer-guitarist, the burly native of Asheville,North Carolina has been constantly on the move and in the spotlight for thepast two decades.
During that time Haynes has maintained his tenure in Gov'tMule, the Allman Brothers Band and the Dead, and while barely catching hisbreath between their tours and studio sessions, he's also performed or cuttunes with a diverse array of musicians including Phil Lesh & Friends, JamesHetfield, Bob Dylan, John Lee Hooker, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, DaveMatthews, Kid Rock and most recently with his longtime hero BB King.
No wonder it's taken Haynes so long to get back into thestudio to make the follow-up to his first solo disc, 1993's Tales of Ordinary Madness. And no wonderhis new album is called Man in Motion.
Haynes describes the title track as "a snapshot of someonewho is evolving and in constant change, and I can certainly relate tothat. I feel that musicians are studentsfor life, so it's important for me to always seek new experiences and throwmyself curve balls, to remain inspired and challenged, and to grow. And whileI've been thinking about getting back to another solo studio album for a longtime now, I've had other things demanding my attention."
In addition to his three solo discs (including 2004'sacoustic Live At Bonnaroo), sevenalbums with the Allman Brothers and Gov't Mule's 16 studio and live releases,Haynes has accumulated stacks of accolades for his efforts.
They range from Grammy wins and nominations to his rankingat number 23 on Rolling Stone's listof "The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time." Haynes has played New York City'shistoric Beacon Theater nearly 300 times, more than any other artist. Gov'tMule has sold over two million song downloads from their own MuleTracks website. And a wide range of stars including Garth Brooks, Gregg Allman, PhilLesh, Little Milton, John Mayall, George Jones, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschiand Buckwheat Zydeco have recorded his songs in addition to the 25 songs he'swritten for the Allman Brothers Band.
If there's such a thing as karma, perhaps that's a factor inHaynes' success, since he's also a major supporter of Habitat for Humanity, acharity that builds housing for the disadvantaged. Each year he organizes hisannual "Christmas Jam" benefit for Habitat now in its 23rd year, inhis hometown of Asheville, NC. Of course, Haynes is not resting on his laurelsfor a moment. He'll be touring behind ManIn Motion this spring and summer while Gov't Mule is on hiatus, and thenregrouping with his Mule-mates to write and rehearse songs for their ninth studioalbum.
"There are other projects I want to do, too," he relates."I'm interested in recording a singer-songwriter oriented album with moreacoustic instruments, a jazzy instrumental CD and a straight-up blues record.But like Man in Motion, those albumswill have to wait until the time is right."