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Published: 2004/06/30
by Mike Greenhaus

Live at Bonnaroo – Warren Haynes

ATO Records 018

Warren Haynes built his storied career through association. So it makes sense that the longtime Allman Brothers axe-man and Gov't Mule ringleader relies on a series of left-field covers to guide his latest solo offering, the lovely Live at Bonnaroo.

A weathered guitarist and passionate vocalist, Haynes has earned asterisks in a startling array of set lists since first finding his niche in the late 1980s. With a Garth Brooks songwriting credit under his belt, and tenured positions in Gov't Mule, the Allman Brothers, and Phil and Friends, Haynes continually proves his ability to gel within a group setting. Yet, throughout his numerous collaborations, Haynes has always stuck to his signature style, adding, not adapting, his Southern rock solos, grainy vocal variations, and a well of original material to each of his varied projects. At times, this approach is comforting, since Haynes possesses one of jam-rock's most muscular voices if at times a seemingly ubiquitous one. But, in distilling both his songwriting and showmanship to their emotional core, on Live at Bonnaroo Haynes proves that his compositions are strong enough to survive in such varied settings.

A mostly acoustic collection of choice covers and original offerings, Live at Bonnaroo is, in many respects, Haynes most surprising effort to date. Shifting emphasis from guitar jams to throaty vocal workouts, Live at Bonnaroo breathes new life into his well-crafted canon. Though most of his compositions are already well documented, this barebones offering has a clear lyrical focus, linking Haynes’ work to the singer-songwriters of yesteryear. In their purest forms, songs like "I’ll Be the One" (which appeared on Haynes 1993 solo bow I’ll Be the One) and "The Real Thing," are throwbacks to the wordy, vocal musings of the 1970s; stories with a clear narrative structure and emotional arch. Likewise, Gov’t Mule staples like "Beautifully Broken" still serve as the closest jam-rock has come to bringing the weight of blues-rock into a modern context.

As with The Deep End sessions, Haynes associates himself with an odd mix of tributes on Live at Bonnaroo. Shifting from the Dead’s "Stella Blue" to Radiohead’s "Lucky," Haynes tackles each composition as if it were his own. Though a testament to his impassioned singing, Haynes’ stark readings do show the occasional limit to his vocal range (at least in mid-tour), particularly in placing the Dead and Radiohead a bit too close together.

Of his own compositions, the Jerry Garcia eulogy "Patchwork Quilt" remains Haynes' most endearing, a carefully layered vocal workout whose metaphors clearly stem from the heart. A key part of several bands' live sets, "Patchwork Quilt" fits best as a Haynes solo piece, adding a bit of weight to the guitarist's words. Haynes also does an admirable job covering U2's "One," paying tribute to Bono without emulating his patented vocal styling. Offering his seventh official take on "Soulshine" (which also includes an appearance by vocalist Vusi Mahlasela), Haynes should think about laying this lovely ditty to rest before it crosses from ubiquitous to tiresome. New cuts like "Forevermore" and Ray Sisk's "Glory Road" are also welcome additions to Haynes' catalogue.

Like any live album, location is also a key ingredient in Live at Bonnaroo’s selection. Since its inception, Bonnaroo has offered Haynes an endless stream of sets to participate in. Over the past three years, Haynes has brought his own bands, Gov’t Mule and the Allman Brothers, to the three-day campout, in addition to a single offering of his evolving solo set. Haynes stands as a true product of Bonnaroo’s widening scope, and like Tennessee’s largest collapsible city, on Live at Bonnaroo he uses his voice to connect all dialects of music.

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