Rene Marie – How Can I Keep From Singing

How Can I Keep From SingingHow Can I Keep From Singing
Rene Marie
(MaxJazz – 2000)
by John Barrett

“My niche is that I’m nicheless.” Untaught as a singer, Rene Marie learned the art from listening to records; her sources were eclectic, and so is her style. Low and woody, her voice is deft: a light attack, the clearest diction. “God Bless the Child” comes on super-fast, with percussive words; the bridge follows slow, and there’s where the emotion comes. She’s cool on “What a Difference a Day Makes”: her voice like an alto sax, she trills through “That thrilling kiss”. And then comes the smoky blues: Marvin Sewell twangs tough, Mulgrew Miller calls from the barroom. And Rene – she’s uproarious, taking “The Tennessee Waltz” where it’s never been. (And it’s in 4/4!) A standard country cheatin’ song, she drawls the word “friend” with disgust – then she yodels! “I finally got bored sounding like someone else,” she says. That is the least of her worries.

The band is tight and largely unobtrusive; all ears are on Rene, and her marvelous song choice. “Four Women” could sound preachy in other hands, but she is subtle; she becomes the women, and their story is hers. (“They call me … SWEET Thing!”) Cool Fender Rhodes for a bitter song – it fits so well. The standards are read frail, a softness matched by Miller’s delicacy. On her own tunes we get spirit: “I Like You” comes stuffed with old-time wordplay. “Better than laughing out loud/ Better than singing in front of a sellout crowd/ Better than eating out of Grandma’s pot/ Better than finding where X marks the spot/ I’ve connected the dots and discovered you’ve got/ Something that makes me like you/ A lot.” Extremely wordy, and the lines run together; it must be an effort to sing but she makes it easy – and cute.

“Hurry Sundown” is a subtle stunner: when Miller shimmers the sadness, you’ll think it a standard. Rene coos deep, waiting for her man to arrive that night. This should make her happy, but the mood is despondent; reminds me of “Don’t Explain”. “Sun is sinking, day is growing dim/ Let the twinkling of the stars begin/ Bring this daymare to an end!” Behind her the band whispers – sheer eloquence. Her “Take My Breath Away” is a tender samba, while Enya’s “How Can I Keep From Singing?” serves a suitable ending. Rene starts alone, singing the tune as a hymn; the band comes in , and she repeats it as a dance. Sewell strums it thick, the drums go earthy, and Sam Newsome could be a bird, soaring with his soprano. You will never hear the word “lamentation” sung with such joy, nor such faith outside a church. Its beauty brings tears, her defiance helps yours, and such a voice will not be silenced. Let’s hope we hear more.