Colleen Rennison,
See the Sky About to Rain
(Black Hen Music, 2014)

Canadian singer Colleen Rennison thanks her parents for "passing down their love of music ... and for the long drives in the jeep with their cassette tapes." I guess that would explain this young woman's taste in song. Recorded in Vancouver and Nashville, See the Sky About to Rain highlights styles, and sometimes material, from a vanished era when rooted sounds that fused rock, folk, r&b and country ruled the airwaves.

That would have been the latter 1960s to the early 1970s, perhaps reaching its apotheosis in the recordings of The Band and Creedence Clearwater Revival. The influence of the former is apparent not just in some of See the Sky's arrangements but in the choice of a couple of Robbie Robertson compositions, "All La Glory" and "Stage Fright." When I did an actual count, I was surprised to find that only three cuts (two of them the Robertson numbers) feature the sorts of r&b horn sections The Band employed to such rousing effect. I suspect that maybe the various pump organs somehow translate in one's mental ear as horns, though Rennison's superb vocals hint at something of the same.

Not always, though. Vocally speaking, she's no one-note wonder. She sings the late Townes Van Zandt's often-covered "White Freightliner" exactly as it ought to be sung -- as a modern Southwestern folk song -- and producer (and studio-band member) Steve Dawson affords it the appropriate acoustic stringband production. Another modern folk song, Tom Russell's "Blue Wing," which gets a quasi-gospel treatment, may be the best number on the album: a powerful song powerfully sung.

Another strong selection is "The Fool is the Last One to Know," by Ralph Boyd Johnson and the late Billy Cowsill, from the Blue Shadows, a 1990s country-rock band whose critical reputation far exceeded its commercial impact (see my review of their On the Floor of Heaven in this space on 9 October 2010). Rennison's reading of Tom Ghent's "Whiskey, Whiskey" walks the border between country and r&b, dissolving the musical and racial divide between the two genres. Proceedings conclude with the title song, an affecting version, improving on the original, of the Neil Young song.

See the Sky succeeds and satisfies all around. Rennison seems to possess wisdom beyond her relatively tender years, inhabiting even the older songs as if she's lived inside them for a long time. She also wins my admiration for possessing the musical self-confidence to seek out good, non-original songs and to interpret them memorably. The world already has a surplus population of singer-songwriters. Performers of Colleen Rennison's taste and talent are all too rare, and not to be missed when they come around.

music review by
Jerome Clark

2 August 2014

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new