Ahhh. The voice. It stirs up heartfelt emotions at the same time that it soothes the soul. It is obviously a commanding instrument, yet with these songs, there is even more power in the restraint that is shown. Sometimes only a force that is nearly unstoppable can display the true potency of control. This voice can and does.
I am talking about the comfy and clear tones of Colleen Rennison, whose latest album, See the Sky About to Rain, is a nearly perfect showcase for her powerful instrument. What is most remarkable is that the 25-year-old Rennison never sings in a manner that calls attention to her vocal technique. For her, it’s clearly all about conveying the story and emotion of the song… and that’s why I have shared that she is 25 years old. It is hard to listen to these songs and believe that she is still so young; her approach to the material is wise and worn with experience in the best way.
The album is produced by Steve Dawson, who also contributes some dynamic guitar-playing. Throughout, Rennison is backed by a lively horn section featuring Jim Hoke (sax), Steve Herrman (trumpet) and Bill Huber trombone), as well as some fine banjo, fiddle and mandolin work by Tim O’brien.
The album offers a collection of sublime material that fits together in a seamless musical journey, from some of the strongest composers around: “Stage Fright” (Robbie Robertson), “White Freightliner” (Townes Van Zandt), “Why Don’t You Try” (Leonard Cohen), “Coyote” (Joni Mitchell), and “See the Sky About to Rain” (Neil Young). These are songs for the ambitious and, along with Dawson’s deft guidance, Rennison achieves remarkable effect with each and every track.
Anyone who attempts her own cover version of Bobbie Gentry’s “Fancy” is a friend of mine; it’s a story-song that I never tire hearing… especially when it’s sung in a full-throated blaze of glory, like this version by Ms. Rennison. The percussive arrangement of the song gives it an edge that keeps it from getting self-indulgent. It compares favorably with every other solid version out there.