Rene Marie – How Can I Keep From Singing
How Can I Keep From Singing
(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.