Vancouver native Colleen Rennison may not yet be a household name, even though she has been working professionally for nearly 20 years -- she started as a child actor at age seven -- but her solo debut, See The Sky About to Rain, may change all that. What began as a guest appearance on sessions lead by Black Hen Music director and mastermind Steve Dawson, blossomed into a full-blown album for Rennison, who also fronts her own retro rock band No Sinner. Dawson surrounded Rennison with top-notch players including Darryl Havers (keys), Geoff Hicks (drums) and Jeremy Holmes (bass) who retooled the twelve cover songs with dynamic sensitivity to match the range of her formidable vocal talent.
Rennison has a velvety alto that is equal parts vulnerable and veracious, that allows her to inhabit the characters of songs culled from a section of icon songwriters, including Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell and the Band.
The highlights are many; the tracks mesh seamlessly together beginning with an easy gospel swing of Robbie Robertson’s “All La Glory,” on to the rambling blues-grass reading of Townes Van Zandt classic “White Freightliner.” Dawson turns the soul ballad “Whiskey, Whiskey" into a duet by playing his slide guitar off Rennison’s pleading vocal, while a rich horn section fills the pallet with color. The legendary McCrary Sisters supply dulcet backing during the waltzing “Oleander.” Then Dawson mixes banjo, reverb-soaked drums, and toy piano to create a playful cabaret accompaniment to “Why Don’t You Try,” and its biting prose penned by Leonard Cohen.
The album's only rocker is the straight take of Bobby Gentry classic “Fancy,” delivered in southern-fired style. Rennison paints the tragic tale “Blue Wing,” with tender strokes evoking a young Etta James and gives a plaintive narrative for “Coyote,” honoring fellow B.C. native Joni Mitchell. Dawson shows off his skills on the pedal steel during a loving take on the Cowsills' honky tonk classic “The Fool Is the last One to Know.”
The album closes with the title track by giving the Neil Young song a Muscle Shoals makeover, adding fire, spice, and greasy groove to enhance Rennison’s vocals much the way the Swampers did for Aretha Franklin back in the day.