10 Years Later: Revisiting Warren Haynes R&B/Soul Glazed Solo LP ‘Man in Motion’

In retrospect, Warren Haynes’ Man in Motion (released 5/10/11) may well represent the first inklings of the careerism that now afflicts his work with Gov’t Mule.  Hearing the LP with the perspective of a decade since its release, it’s all the more clear an outside producer would have been a boon to its production. On the stage of the Beacon Theater in New York during the aforementioned band’s 2011-2 New Year’s Run, the addition of horns and backup singers sounded far more authentic, not to mention natural, than much of what sounds so forced on this, his second solo album.

Anyone who’s seen Warren Haynes perform covers of Otis Redding and/or Delbert McClinton knows of his fondness for those elemental genres of music. But deliberately crafted as homage to r&b and soul and notably released on the Stax label, Man in Motion, suggests ever so strongly that mere fondness, no matter how genuine, is not the same as an abiding devotion. Left to his own production devices in collaboration with the (overly?) sympathetic Gordie Johnson (with whom, not coincidentally,  he was also collaborating on Mule sessions around this time), Haynes keeps the vocals in direct proportion to his guitar playing throughout. 

The passion in Haynes’ singing on this final cut,“Save Me,” in fact, is arguably the most confessional vocal he’s ever done. Not only that, this single performance alone is enough to redeem the inconsistencies that otherwise afflict this exercise in style. Otherwise, Warren wisely allows Ruthie Foster to wail rather than indulge himself in any vocal histrionics; it’s the kind of restraint that also earmarks a reading of William Bell’s “Every Day Will Be Like a Holiday,” where Ivan Neville’s presence on vocals and keyboards (oddly more prominent than George Porter Jr. on bass) are essential to a fairly authentic cover. 

Even if he doesn’t always sound particularly inspired or imaginative, this erstwhile Allman Brother maintains his customarily clean and uncluttered guitar tones throughout the record. At his best, the man also keeps a fine balance between the raw and the melodic, an approach used most pointedly on a title track. Yet even though that close to eight minutes unfolds without dragging too much, it still compels the notion it is the most obvious instance of  having heard all this from the Haynes before: with the hindsight of a decade, there’s no trace of that sense of re-discovery that permeated his 2015 studio collaboration with Railroad Earth, Ashes & Dust, or the tour he arranged in its support (to much greater effect than the sometimes lackluster shows behind Man In Motion).

On “River’s Gonna Rise,” the lyrics move from the personal to the universal and back again as drummer Raymond Webber hammers out a portentous rhythm. But “On a Real Lonely Night” is a bit too short on substance to support Ron Holloway’s rounds on saxophone and “Sick of My Shadow” could likewise use some editing. In those moments, plus the too-close for comfort rewrite of “In the Midnight Hour” called “Take A Bullet,” the thought occurs that a selected run of shows recorded live with this all-star band might’ve sufficed for Warren to fulfill his eclectic ambition. 

But then, as he sings on “Take A Bullet:” ‘headfirst is the only way into life.’ The man’s wholehearted devotion to his muse is admirable to be sure but, in the end, it is exactly that tendency to workaholism that leaves Man in Motion less memorable than it might’ve been. In what is surely an unintentional self-reference, contrary to the album title, the titular leader of Gov’t Mule is depicted in both front and inside photos, holding his guitar, posed stock still, for all intents and purposes, as static as the music inside the package.


Related Content

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Recent Posts

New to Glide

Keep up-to-date with Glide