One thing we know for sure about Colleen Rennison before even breaking open the shrink wrap to her debut solo away from the raucous refrains of the upstart No Sinner band: man o man, does she know how to pick 'em! Old classics, I mean. See the Sky About to Rain sports a bonanza of not-quite-standards from well-known figures (Joni Mitchell, Bobbi Gentry, Leonard Cohen, etc.), and everything lies in not the fact that she wisely plundered hallowed halls but that she picked the ones she did, the ones everyone else walked by without blinking. The moment my eyes came to rest on The Band's Stage Fright listed on the liner reverse, the ol' ticker skipped a beat. Finally, someone nabbed that gem!! Back in the day, when I was listening non-stop to rock and roll (and, true, some jug and bluegrass), I dug The Band's singles, but when Stage Fright issued in 1970, I grabbed the LP instead 'cause that cut knocked…me…out. Then came the Kinks' Muswell Hillbillies and, all of a sudden, my interest in roots musics increased quite notably.
Where Robbie Robertson & Co. staged the original as a carnie barker / Appalachian stage gig, though, Rennison turns it into a soulful blues. Resonance to the original is still there, but her baseline seems to reside in the old Tina Turner / Bonnie Bramlett / Genya Ravan side of the house, more to the female belters and plaint wailers than otherwise, so the slant is appreciable. I'm informed she really cuts loose with No Sinners but wanted to explore the subtler side of things here and, to do so, decided on the estimable Steve Dawson for production, engineering, and multiple guitars. Damn! Not only is her taste in modern oldies superb but her selection for guidance just as exquisite. If you're familiar with Dawson's solo, group, tribute, and production work, then you know what I mean…and if you're not, then I suggest you repair the deficit pronto 'cause you have no idea what you're missing.
Rennison's take on Mtchell's Coyote incorporates what has made Eden Brent (here) and Kelley Hunt (here) so distinctive, and Dawson's ethereally wheatfield soul on the pedal steel (and mellotron!) on the cut pushes things all the more into windswept skies etched with tattered clouds. The balladry continues bittersweetly, achingly, but hopefully in Booker T's My Crew, with the McCrary Sisters providing backing vocals. Rennison nowhere goes ballistic, as she does with her band, but the restraint of power and intensity is unmistakable, and that only amplifies listener interest. So if you want to add Maggie Bell, Darby Mills, and others to the college of comparatives, go right ahead, 'cause ya won't be for a moment disappointed.
Oh, and about that consummate taste Colleen displays? She got it from her mom 'n pop's tapes, listened to on long jeep journeys when she was young, and, hoo-boy!, do I ever know about THAT kinda thang, that freedom of the outdoors and great tunes. I'm hearing back from pissed-off rangers that the coyotes are still deaf up on the Colorado plateau redrock country when I used to amble through there, blasting tunes 'n hootin' 'n hollerin' to no one in particular, to the great outdoors. I'm pretty sure I may have run across her progenitors and shared a flask of bourbon or two with them, perhaps while overlooking Canyonlands from Dead Horse Point and…well, how much more American can ya get than all that? Here's to hoping Colleen passes it on to her own kids.