Born in Southern California, raised in the Central Texas Hill Country, based in Minneapolis, Renee Austin has a rangy, rootsy voice that glides from raspy to crystal clear to southern slurry while echoing foremothers such as Janis Joplin, Lou Ann Barton and Toni Price. Her phrasing is most reminiscent of Delbert McClinton, who has pulled strings to help launch her career; he duets with her to great effect here on “Pretend We Never Met”.
Ostensibly a blues singer, Austin is really more of genre-buster like Delbert himself, alchemizing a variety of blues, R&B, soul and gospel styles while giving it all a country flavor. There are some attention-grabbing moments here among the sweet ballads (“When Something Is Wrong”), soul workouts (“Pour The Sugar Slowly”), gospelesque stomps (“Bottom Of A Heart”), late-night loungey fare (“Fool Moon”) and upstart rockers (“Bury The Hatchet”, arguably the best song on the disc).
But there’s something missing, too. For someone with such a pyrotechnical voice, Austin sings with considerable restraint — even her screams are harnessed — and the band is likewise precise, controlled and metronomic. They could all stand to cut loose now and again, so they sound less like a well-constructed session entity and more like a real band (it’s telling that she names her road band members in the notes and none of them appear on the record). The sound adheres to the title phrase a little too closely, when her style would probably be better served by more sweat and spontaneity. But there’s no denying the potential revealed on this debut.