Before Gov’t Mule, before The Allman Brothers Band, before his participation on various Grateful Dead projects, Warren Haynes was a soul fan. Some of that influence was evident in his collaborations with artists such as Little Milton and as producer on Taj Mahal’s Maestro, but he’s never allowed himself the luxury of recording a soul-based album. Until now.
Aptly released on the revived Stax label, Haynes invites horns, female backing vocals and veterans such as bassist George Porter Jr., Ivan Neville and the Faces’ Ian McLagan to add R&B spice to these nine originals and one cover. Haynes has ample freedom to express his rock, blues and prog roots in his existing outfits, so on this first solo set with backing musicians since 1993 (a few others have been unaccompanied) he unleashes songs that borrow from classic soul yet incorporate his rock and improvisational leanings, especially when he unwinds on guitar.
Haynes’ whiskeyed vocals have always been gritty but he digs deeper here, perhaps because the lyrics and arrangements on tunes such as “Take a Bullet” and a terrific version of William Bell’s “Everyday Will Be Like a Holiday” emphasize that aspect of his singing. The proceedings get funky on “Sick of My Shadow” where Neville’s elastic organ and McLagan’s piano infuse a supple vibe on one of Haynes’ finest compositions and most laid back guitar solos. Ballads such as “Save Me” and “A Friend to You” find the dual keyboards creating a gospel groove, the latter on an unrequited love song that works an abrupt tempo change into the dynamics making it even more riveting. Everything converges on “River’s Gonna Rise” as Ruthie Foster tears into church-fueled backup vocals and the band churns out a holy fire urging the guitarist to one of his most intense solos.
As the album’s title implies, Haynes constantly shifts gears in his career, but this solo experiment in soul soaked blues rock is so powerful and successful, it’s worth exploring further on upcoming albums.