Certain things can’t be faked in creative endeavours: talent, commitment and experience. For a singer-songwriter, all of these can be heard – or not – in the voice. Talent can be raw but its presence is usually marked by the fact that the listener wants to keep listening, and keep coming back to listen. It’s not something that can be identified in a paint-by-numbers way; there’s no formula. It’s there or it’s not.
Commitment is also there or it’s not. It can be heard in the seriousness with which the singer approaches the task. There’s a balance to be struck between trying to prove something – which is bound up with ego – and in being committed to doing the best job you had. Commitment is in the way the song is delivered: with conviction; with each note treated respectfully; with an intention to communicate to the listener.
Experience, of course, can be the hardest-won element because even a talented, committed artist may not make it far enough into a career to have a lot of experience. But if experience is there, it tends to be revealed in how at ease a singer is. If they sound like they’re striving, or straining, it can signal that they don’t have enough experience to feel comfortable with their performance. Experience makes the listener feel at ease: we can sit back and enjoy what’s going on, knowing that we’re in safe hands.
It’s no surprise that Warren Haynes has experience – Ashes & Dust may be just his third solo album but he has played extensively for others, including the Allman Brothers Band. His experience shows in how easy this album is to listen to – from the first song, it’s a country/blues/roots treat. The enjoyment of it time after time, though, comes from Haynes’s evident talent and his commitment to his work. These are very well-constructed songs, articulated clearly for the audience. Certainly, that audience is unlikely to be hipsters – this music reflects Haynes’s pedigree (and there are shades of Creedence Clearwater Revival in there too). The audience is more likely to be people who like their music familiar with an edge of the new, dark and strange; those who aren’t afraid of traditional instruments or stories told as if the listener is drawing close. This is a mature album for people who take music seriously and who want to be satisfied, moved and entertained all at once.
Ashes & Dust is out now through Provogue.www.warrenhaynes.net