Colleen Rennison has one of those voices that is unique and unforgettable. It reminds me of Janis Joplin but without the rock and roll edge. Deep down it has a soulful quality and while it may not have the stretch of some artists, it fits her choice of material well.
Rennison’s new album, See The Sky About To Rain, presents her as an American roots singer with some excursions in a country direction. She is not a songwriter but she chose the albums 12 songs wisely.
She is at her best on two Robbie Robertson tunes, “All La Glory” and “Stage Fright,” plus Tom Ghent’s “Whiskey Whiskey.” All three are made for her Americana translation and have the common denominator of a brass section, which pushes the song along without interfering with the vocals. They are laidback songs that flow rather than overwhelm.
There are a number of story songs that feature a simple vocal performance. “Why Don’t You Try” (Leonard Cohen), “Coyote” (Joni Mitchell), and especially “Fancy” by Bobbie Gentry all benefit from her keeping the focus on the lyrics as she challenges herself vocally.
Several of the tracks move in a country direction. Townes Van Zandt’s “White Freightliner,” Sarah Harmer’s “Oleander,” and Booker T Jones “My Crew” all benefit from fiddles, mandolins, a dobro, pedal steel guitars, and backing vocals by the McCrary Sisters. They help to keep the music from a sameness as they compliment one another and meld into a cohesive whole.
The album ends with the title song composed by Neil Young. Propelled by the guitar of producer Steve Dawson, the track just washes over you and brings the album to a fitting conclusion.
See The Sky About To Rain is an intimate album of interpretive thoughts by Canadian artist Colleen Rennison. The subtle textures and the power of her emotion make it one of the better Americana releases of the year so far.