Jimmy Warren: The blues artist most ready to engage life as we know it to be in 2010 and then to tell the truth about it. Promises never put food on the table or a roof overhead.

Promises, Promises
By David McGee

Jimmy Warren Band
Electro Glide Records

Female trouble is nothing new to blues literature, and Jimmy Warren populates the dozen original songs on his new album with plenty of them, starting right off the bat with the gal whose acquisitiveness is a profound drain on his limited resources as described in the downbeat thump of “Watermelon Money,” and articulated both in Warren’s sharp lyrics but also in his emotional, multi-textured guitar solo, which shifts to and fro from fat, mournful tones to astringent, stinging ones. But the story-within-the-story is the plight of a man “working two jobs just to get ahead.” And therein lies the tale of No More Promises and the implied meaning of its title: “Watermelon Money” is but one of several songs explicitly referencing the woes springing from our nation’s calamitous economy and linking those to troubled personal relationships. People working hard and barely making ends meet, if at all, is a recurring refrain here, and them’s the blues, as surely as the turning of the earth. In this context it’s altogether amazing that Warren can summon the affecting tenderness infusing his beautiful, lilting love ballad, “I’m Gonna Love You,” with its straightforward, unequivocal vow of commitment; sweet, graceful guitar solo; and the velvety cushioning of Anna Ulrich’s background vocals. At a time when statistics show a greater disparity than ever between the upper income earners in American and the middle class, Warren puts the inequality in stark terms in “It Ain’t Fair.” Singing about “the man over me” who’s getting rich off his labor, Warren opines, “You’d think he’d understand that his money come from me, and give a little back, not be so greedy/I’m workin’ 12 hours a day, for next to nothing pay/he don’t care…” He cuts out on a couple of howling solos and Bob Margolin makes a memorable guest appearance with some searing, concise slide work, both guitarists’ fury underscoring a seething groove that seems designed to reflect the growing populist anger among the have-nots. No sooner does “It Ain’t Fair” conclude than does the band slip into a low-key stomp over which Warren intones: “They took my job away from me/To another land/They left me standing all alone/With nothing in my hand…they say it’s gettin’ better now/I wish they were standing in my shoes.” Determined to avoid the welfare line, this song’s protagonist proclaims his intention to find honorable labor but reality sets in pretty quickly: “I could work the Thrifty Mart/barely get by/fall deeper, deeper in debt/kiss my house and car bye-bye.” And where words fail him, Warren lets his trusty Strat moan, groan, spit and sputter all over the track like a banshee’s cry.

Lest anyone think Warren is merely pamphleteering here, he has plenty of moments chronicling things going wrong simply because sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. So he serves up a plateful of rich regret on the title track, an atmospheric southern rock-style ballad in which he strikes a resilient pose in the aftermath of a relationship’s end, singing in his sturdy, unembroidered tenor of how he believes his gal’s return is the key to his enlightenment: “There’s a way for me to know the pain behind you walkin’ out my door.” To which he adds in his second voice—his guitar—a soaring, crying solo that curls in on itself before he returns with a subdued verse asserting the onset of a new day of “no more promises, no more walkin’ out the door.” In the turgid thrust of “Love’s Gone Bad Again” his wrenching vocal describes a couple’s unraveling as it’s happening—and the title says it’s not the first time—and once again a wounded vocal is shadowed by a striking guitar solo, one replete with angry flurries of notes and long, anguished lines.

But Warren never loses focus. He sends us on our way at album’s end with “Sends Me On My Way,” a slow, grinding, working man blues of the rich-get-rich-poor-get-poorer variety, in which Warren reiterates the theme of “It Ain’t Fair,” offering a smirk in his vocal as he sings of how his boss “pats me on the back, says ‘sales are rough’/pours his coffee in a silver cup/sends me on my way/on my way to earn his pay.” It’s a terrific track, with Warren adding not only pointed guitar commentary but also a hefty B3 underpinning, and, in a one-man band show, inserts a solid rhythm section as well. Willie Dixon once memorably proclaimed as to how the blues “is about life, and if it’s not about life, it ain’t the blues.” Well, Willie was right, of course, and as of late it appears Jimmy Warren is the blues artist most ready to engage life as we know it to be in 2010 and then to tell the truth about it. Promises never put food on the table or a roof overhead.

The Jimmy Warren Band’s No More Promises is available online at Electro Glide Records

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
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