By Daniel Garrett
Rene Marie, Black Lace Freudian Slip
Produced by Rene Marie and Bruce Barth
Motema Music, 2011
Rene Marie is an original, and not because she has an eccentricity that is both earthy and grand; rather it is because she is herself: you listen to her, and hear character—emotion, experience, honesty, intelligence, irreverence, sexuality, and wit, in a woman who can balance amusement and anger, and has pride and some serenity. Her album Black Lace Freudian Slip is a master class in good, possibly great, singing, containing songs she wrote as well as songs by others, including one by her son, that she has chosen. The subjects of Black Lace Freudian Slip are musical art, dreams, love, sex, loneliness, perseverance, family, and history, and the album is Rene Marie’s emancipation proclamation. It is wonderful when a singer declares herself, the kind of thing Abbey Lincoln did with The World is Falling Down and Dianne Reeves did with Art & Survival. It does not happen enough. Rene Marie’s collection Black Lace Freudian Slip starts with a witty but sharp confrontation between artist and audience (including critics) in both “Black Lace Freudian Slip” and “This for Joe.” In the first, Rene Marie’s irreverent and sexy humor are front and center, supported by a deep, mellow, pleasing bass—she asks, “Are you thinking about what I’m wearing or some standard to misapply?” Rene Marie mocks strict adherence to musical tradition in “This for Joe,” and then embellishes the song with enviable scat singing (as if to say, “I can do this, display the desired technique, but I don’t have to do it”). The music is intelligent yet playful; and the coordination among the players is far from accidental, with the sudden stops and starts being perfect. Her band-members are pianist Kevin Bales, bassist Rodney Jordan, and drummer Quentin Baxter, with help from acoustic guitarist Bill Kopper, electric guitarist and fiddler Lionel Young, and harmonica-player Dexter Payne. The singer’s declaration “I got to move” is an artistic as well as physical assertion. “I want you to touch me, I want you to leave me the hell alone,” she sings in her own downbeat country song, “Wishes,” and the honesty and simple elegance of the lyrics, the force in her voice, and the jazz setting are what keep it from being morose (that is another way of saying the song is an accomplishment). “Thanks, But I Don’t Dance,” written by Patti McKenny and Andrew Sussman, is romantic and wistful, despite the narrator’s lyric restraint and wariness; and tenderness means more when it is accompanied by this kind of knowledge and strength—qualities Rene Marie articulates with her tone of voice. Black Lace Freudian Slip is, among other things, a meditation on what it means to be a woman artist; and “Thanks, But I Don’t Dance” continues that with the lyric, “You win somebody’s heart precisely because of your art, and then your art is what gets in the way.”
“Free for a Day,” also written by Patti McKenny and Andrew Sussman, recommends play (“skip over the ropes and hop over the squares”); it is friendly and fun, with piano notes that dance, float, plunge, skip, and twirl, and the words could be the advice of a friend, a mother, or a therapist. Moody and speculative is “Ahn’s Dream,” co-written by Rene Marie with Nils P. Molvaer, a song that fits in with the album title’s gesture toward psychology, as the song “Ahn’s Dream” is about dreams, disturbance, and disclosure; and it has spare piano-playing and silent space between somewhat ominous beats. Passing time, competing songs, and the dissolution of a relationship form the subject in Rene Marie’s composition “Gosh, Look at the Time.” (She is a very good lyricist.) With rambling, rumbling music containing some blues in it, “Rim Shot” is a sensuous appreciation of music, of a drummer’s skill; and it is further evidence that when energy, mood, and meaning are diverse, plentiful, music replicates and satisfies human experience. In “Fallin’ Off a Log” Rene Marie gives us a character, a woman, going from place to place, but living a mundane life, a life with brief relationships and dreary work; like a scene from a film, it is a dramatic yet simple piece, and it is the control in Rene Marie’s voice that is most admirable—the control allows great concentration of focus and emotion. Atmosphere and mood are significant. Understanding is significant. The composition, as performed, has a classical simplicity.
A song from the perspective of being haunted by history, by brutality, greed, and death, “Deep in the Mountains,” written by Rene Marie’s son, Michael Croan, a song on which they both sing, is about knowledge that is difficult to carry, knowledge that troubles dreams and waking hours. It is the kind of song, with a tug of blues and gospel, that the group Sweet Honey in the Rock might do. Rene Marie follows that with a fresh rendering of the “Serenity Prayer” (“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…”). Obviously, the collection is well-thought, with its truths something to share, a broadening of the cultural conversation, rather than something intended to alienate or dampen the spirit. “You run. And in your running, you fall…Yeah, but then you stand,” Rene Marie sings in “Rufast Daliarg,” a description of trial and error, of experience and growth; and “Rufast Daliarg” gives practical and spiritual advice for persistence, with the band’s sound full of energy, combustible energy, without indulging in chaos. “I’ve sung every note I could possibly sing” and “I’m so exhausted y’all, I can hardly think,” claims Rene Marie in “Tired,” the concluding song on Black Lace Freudian Slip. “Tired” is—with description and exasperation—funny and sounds true. In the song the time is late and Rene Marie is ready for home, love, rest, as “tomorrow is already today.” I began by commenting that Black Lace Freudian Slip is a master class in good, possibly great, singing; and my hesitation was due to my perception that a definitive assertion of rare and important quality—of greatness—can be off-putting when it comes blunt and fast, but this is what I think: Rene Marie is a great singer.