Warren Haynes – Man in Motion (album review)

Warren Haynes – Man in Motion (Stax) Album review

Warren Haynes has kept himself quite busy, sharing lead guitar duties with Derek Trucks in the current lineup of the Allman Brothers; while fronting his own trio, Gov’t Mule; and touring with the Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan.  But, he’s found time to record his first true solo record in 18 years, Man in Motion, and it finds him exploring new territory.

Haynes has stated that this record is his tribute to James Brown, who was an early influence.  While that might sound like a stretch coming from a guitarist best known for southern rock and jamming, keep in mind that the man who first occupied Haynes’ spot in the Allman Brothers, Duane Allman, began his career backing up the likes of Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin.  While the Godfather of Soul may have been his muse, these songs bear a closer resemblance to Pickett or Otis Redding, than the funky grooves laid down by James Brown (although many of the tracks have extended endings, leaving plenty of room for jamming).  And, “tribute” is probably a misleading term; Haynes wrote 9 of the 10 tracks on the disc himself (only William Bell’s “Everyday Will Be Like a Holiday” is a cover).

While the cover photo of the disc features just Haynes and his guitar, this is very much a band effort. He’s joined by an all-star cast headed by the great Ivan Neville on organ, Ron Holloway on sax, and the Meters’ George Porter on bass, and Haynes gives each members plenty of room to shine. But don’t worry, those longing for his fierce playing will not be disappointed either.  And, there is something uncanny about Haynes’ vocals – there are times when he sounds just like Gregg Allman; his two decades of membership in that band have certainly rubbed off to some degree.   “Man in Motion” leads off the album with a simmering wah wah guitar and organ, while “River’s Gonna Rise” has one of the most melodic choruses, something the Staple Singers might have done, and ends with a fiery trade-off between the guitar of Haynes and the soulful vocals of Ruthie Foster.  Then, there’s “Take a Bullet” which borrows the arrangement from “In the Midnight Hour” for the groove, and may be the album’s finest moment (especially when it breaks down to just vocals and drums).  The record closes with “Save Me,” a gospel-soaked track that features Haynes’ voice accompanied only by an echoed piano and organ that sounds like it was recorded in the back of a huge church.  You half-expect Aretha to start singing instead.  For Man in Motion, Warren Haynes turns what might seem like him stepping out of his comfort zone into an absolute triumph.  Let’s hope he revisits his roots again real soon. – Tony Peters