Jennifer Warnes Covers Pearl Jam, Talks NFL 'Dirty Dancing' Super Bowl Ad
Jennifer Warnes didn't intend to take 17 years between albums. "It's just life gets in the way -- it sure speeds by, doesn't it," the veteran singer tells Billboard. "And it seems like it's accelerating too quickly." But she's making up for some lost time with the April 27 release of Another Time, Another Place, whose version of Pearl Jam's "Just Breathe" is premiering exclusively below.
Warnes recorded the album in Austin, Texas and Los Angeles with Roscoe Beck, her longtime friend from Leonard Cohen's band, for which Beck was bassist and musical director. He also co-produced her albums Famous Blue Raincoat and The Hunter. "Singing is what I do," Warnes says. "My manager said, 'It would be good for you to make a record,' so she got this deal for me and I went to Texas and started working with Roscoe."
The path to Another Time... wasn't easy, though. Shortly before recording started during 2015 Warnes lost two of her sisters a week apart from each other. Then her manager was killed in a traffic accident, one of Warnes' boyfriends passed away and her dog died. And, of course, Cohen's death during Nov. 2016 was shattering as well. "I don't know how I got the record done," Warnes says now. "When I delivered the record finally to the company (BMG) last fall I was so happy and relieved. Then all of a sudden I turned around and looked at this mountain of grief that had accumulated. There's no way to process that much." Making music, however, helped Warnes through that rugged period.
"It's the one thing that keeps my brain occupied," she says. "Singing is who I am, so I kept making contact with that part of me, and that was lovely, Texas was lovely, somehow I got through it...."
Another Time... blends Warnes originals with covers of songs by Mark Knopfler, John Legend, Warren Haynes, the Tedeschi Trucks Band, Lonnie Johnson and Mickey Newbury -- played by an all-star corps of musicians that includes Blondie Chaplin, Sonny Landreth, Ruthie Foster, Vinnie Colaiuta, Lenny Castro and more. Warnes estimates that she and Beck considered between 30 and 50 songs, some suggested by collaborator Mary Martin, all having to live up to the pair's exacting standards. "I'd been with Leonard too long," she notes. "Leonard aimed for your heart. I wanted these songs to be useful and functional. Especially in these precarious times we are living in."
"Just Breathe," from Pearl Jam's 2009 album Backspacer, opens Another Time... and serves as a kind of overture for a set of songs that mine the themes of loss and mortality Warnes was feeling at the time. "Eddie Vedder's so great. There's just a few like him," Warnes says. "Mary Martin advised me to keep my choices personal, and it's really hard to find a narrative for someone who's been around as long as me, and who's female. It was hard to find a realistic narrative among the songs that were sent to me in the first six months of this idea. I was looking for somebody who was thinking like me, and I couldn't really find that many, so if I found any sentiment that even came close to how I was really feeling, I would demo that and see if it stuck and was something that felt right. And 'Just Breathe' is a beautiful little song that fit exactly what I wanted to do."
Warnes is hoping to play some live shows to support Another Time... but says that her "state of recovery" may limit what she does. "I've seen the inside of a lot of airports and hotel rooms," Warnes says. "I'd rather go in the studio and make another record because Roscoe and I are on a roll now." Meanwhile she's been enjoying seeing a bit of her past; her Dirty Dancing duet "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" turned into an NFL Super Bowl ad with New York Giants players Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. reenacting the iconic dance finale scene.
"I loved it," Warnes says. "I tweeted to the NFL telling them I couldn't stop watching it, it was so adorable, so inspired. It didn't really sell anything; It's just something that was really fun. I love that. It's beautiful, and our world needs some moments of joy, pure joy like that. It's sure hard to come by these days."