Warren Haynes has always wanted to be a soul singer. From his first Aretha Franklin greatest hits CD to hearing James Brown broadcast from radio stations right here in Western North Carolina, soul music inspired Warren Haynes to pick up the guitar and start writing songs of his own.
Haynes’ rise to rock legend status started shortly after graduating Asheville High School – at 20, he tagged along with David Allan Coe’s band to tour across the nation. The gig would spark a friendship between Haynes and Coe’s friend, Allman Brothers founder, Dickey Betts. And when The Allman Brothers Band decided to reunite in the late ‘80s, Haynes wound up playing guitar for one of the most preeminent rock bands in the world.
If there’s any doubt that Haynes is a hometown hero, just look at what his more-than-20-year running annual Christmas Jam has done for bringing in music to the area, all while benefiting Habitat for Humanity. At this past December’s Jam, Asheville, soul music and Haynes’ musical origins in it came full circle – the artist unveiled a new group of musicians, The Warren Haynes Band, and announced his first solo studio album in 18 years.
It’s back to Haynes’ roots for Man In Motion. Backed by an all-star funk and soul outfit including George Porter, Jr. on bass and Ivan Neville on organ and clavinet, The Warren Haynes Band is more than a robust and experienced backing band – they’re a foundation for Haynes’ lead vocals and fill guitar, and often, with its punchy horn section on songs like “Take a Bullet,” in equal sonic focus.
Man is far from a shred showcase, which is not to say that Haynes has ever been one of those guitarists to make solos sumptuously breakneck or self-gratifying. The album is a testament to Haynes’ singing and songwriting and his love of black gospel, soul and the blues; more homage to B. B. King than electric guitar wankery. The songs are fully crafted and distinct with more brief, complicated but tasteful licks than outright solos.
“On a Real Lonely Night” opens up with a plainly distorted riff – a rarity on the mostly-clean album. If the uplifting pace and major key are any indication, Haynes is the type of guy to embrace a lonely night instead of piss it away. The end closes on the more blue-eyed side of soul (think Donald Fagen) with a three-minute saxophone/guitar call and response. It’s fun, it’s funky and it’s nice to hear what Haynes can do when he camps out in an octave.
Recorded in Willie Nelson’s Pedernales Studios, Haynes did more than improvise some of his runs to try and make the album feel live. Same-room takes with minimal over-dubbing, all recorded with tube-powered gear on two-inch tape, give the album a warm sound and retain the same glow present on Haynes’ previous live acoustic albums.
The album closes with the confessional “Save Me,” showcasing the raspy, gravelly bottom of Haynes’ voice. The organ fills and tremolo guitar take the backseat as Haynes and a forceful piano fit for the most emotive Baptist invocation drive a powerful duet. With a slow piano fade out, it’s a sad way to end a man in motion’s latest release. But with a rough idea of his next project and tour dates scheduled well until the end of this year, Haynes is sure to keep moving right along.