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Review: Jennifer Warnes back with elegant, heartfelt album

May 29, 2018
This cover image released by BMG shows "Another Time, Another Place," by Jennifer Warnes. (BMG via AP)
This cover image released by BMG shows "Another Time, Another Place," by Jennifer Warnes. (BMG via AP)

Jennifer Warnes, “Another Time, Another Place” (BMG)

Even when major an-album-a-year bands and singers are rare, the 17 since Jennifer Warnes’ last record, “The Well,” are far too lengthy an interval, making her return that much sweeter.

Still further back is her career peak — her tremendous 1987 collection of Leonard Cohen songs, “Famous Blue Raincoat” — and her soundtrack hits from “Norma Rae,” ″An Officer and a Gentleman” and “Dirty Dancing.”

There are no Cohen compositions on “Another Time, Another Place,” but Warnes and producer-bassist Roscoe Beck have found plenty of songs worth their attention and talent, mostly covers written or made famous by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Pearl Jam, Elvis Presley, Mickey Newbury and Dire Straits.

The opening track, Eddie Vedder’s “Just Breathe,” is imbued with a dose of elegance both in Warnes’ vocals and in the arrangement, which chooses strings and a French horn to layer the emotional heft without mawkishness. Presley recorded Lonnie Johnson’s “Tomorrow Night” already while at Sun Records and Warnes preserves its simplicity and aching uncertainty.

Greg Leisz’ pedal steel and Dean Parks’ mandolin help guide Newbury’s “So Sad”; Ray Bonneville’s “I Am the Big Easy” is like a New Orleans encyclopedia; and Warnes fully submerges herself in the soulful blues of “Back Where I Started,” written by Derek Trucks and Warren Hayes.

A version of Mark Knopfler’s “Why Worry” ends the album with sentiments similar to the opener’s — both champion hope and resilience amid tragedy — fitting choices as Warnes lost her mom and several other close kin, as well as her manager, within a short span.

If it took Warnes a long time to commit to making an album again, the clarity and confidence of her performances on “Another Time, Another Place” validate her decision with style and grace.

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