Mention Jennifer Warnes to music lovers in the UK and you’ll probably expect most answers to include her Oscar winning movie songs Up Where We Belong and (I’ve Had) the Time of My Life. However, Warnes is a respected singer and writer going back many years and there is much more to her career than those two (admittedly mega selling) songs.
Recent years have seen Warnes collaborating with a number of artists before returning to record a new solo album. That will hopefully be released by the end of this year / early next year but in the meantime, tomorrow sees the first UK release of Warnes’ 2001 album, The Well. Why the gap? Well, legal wrangles and what Warnes described in our recent interview as “a chaotic time” in the music industry and the life of her recording career meant that The Well could not receive a UK release. Now, Warnes owns the master and in her own words, she can “do whatever I want with it”. I began our interview by asking how it felt to be talking about music that had been recorded over fifteen years ago. Not surprisingly, Warnes’ feels mostly “relief…the only reason we make records is so that people can listen to them and they can’t do that if they’re not released”. This was said with a lot of passion and I wondered if, given the struggles, the end result of The Well was worth it. The answer was of course yes because singing and pursuing a career in the music industry is not a choice to Warnes, rather she describes it as her destiny. All careers have rocky moments and hers have been with the corporate side of the industry as opposed to the music side which she calls “bliss” in comparison. Her last word on this was “I’ve paid a great deal for lots of things but I’m still here”.
Still here and still releasing great music no less. Listening to The Well as a newcomer to Warnes’ solo music I was struck by the emotion and passion of the vocals. This is an album constructed around a raw, throaty, emotional voice and it works. The tracks are embued with blues, country, R&B and a hint of bluegrass and most invoke a deep sense of emotion which is, I gather, what Warnes was after; she cares about the listening experience. Indeed, when asked how she chooses the tracks for her albums, Warnes said that she asks herself if “this song will cause a stir in the heart of the listener?”. Warnes went on to describe her criteria for choosing songs as this: they have to speak to her life at the moment and they have to suit her voice and personality. As a group, they have to be happy bedfellows, hanging together as a whole. During the interview it becomes apparent that recording in a studio is a passion for Warnes, indeed she describes it as a “beautiful process, in which you’re chasing an invisible spirit”. A further comparison comes from cooking – you can cook with the same ingredients time after time but sometimes the result is perfection and making records is like that. Sometimes it just comes together perfectly.
My favourite tracks on the album are two of the simplest tracks: Tom Waits’ Invitation to the Blues and Billy Joel’s And So it Goes. I felt more of an emotional pull from these two stripped back songs, more so perhaps with the Billy Joel song.
Of course, as I mentioned earlier, Warnes is best known in the UK for her duets with Joe Cocker and Bill Medley and there are two duets on The Well. Of the two, I most enjoyed Patriots Dream with Arlo Guthrie and I asked her what it’s like singing a duet as opposed to a solo song and this was her answer: “well, how is it making love with yourself or with someone else (laughter)?”. I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting that answer! I meant to go on to ask about the duets on this album but instead, we talked more about duets in general. Warnes says that many of her happiest times have been singing on stage with someone, experiences in which they are both feeling an almost spiritual connection. Jo Cocker was the name that was volunteered along with this statement.
The Well draws on a welter of emotions that are clearly personal to Warnes and the overall effect is to leave the listener with an emotional response to the music. Since my interview with Warnes clearly denotes that this was her intention, she’s done a great job. If you’re a fan of bluesy, folky music then The Well is a great album. It’s also a great way to discover that there’s a lot more to Jennifer Warnes than just a great voice.
The Well is available here:
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