First Listen: Priscilla Renea defies expectations beautifully

(July 18, 2018) I was looking for some new music to play while ride sharing. When you’re in a car for 12-14 hours, variety takes on an added bit of importance. So, I got my weekly e-mail from Apple iTunes alerting me about new music. I checked it out, and among the artists that drew my interest – in part because none of the tracks on their albums had the letter “E” for explicit lyrics after every song title – were Victory Boyd and Priscilla Renea.

(July 18, 2018) I was looking for some new music to play while ride sharing. When you’re in a car for 12-14 hours, variety takes on an added bit of importance. So, I got my weekly e-mail from Apple iTunes alerting me about new music. I checked it out, and among the artists that drew my interest – in part because none of the tracks on their albums had the letter “E” for explicit lyrics after every song title – were Victory Boyd and Priscilla Renea.

You’ll learn more about Boyd in an upcoming First Listen. I decided to play Renea’s album Coloured. I clicked on the first track, “Family Tree,” and I heard twangy guitars and I think even a mandolin and instantly realized that this is a country record. “Family Tree,” as well as every song on this glorious record, is very good. I realized that I needed to find out more about this Priscilla Renea. What I learned is that the Florida native released her debut album to very little acclaim in 2009. She ended up having more success writing songs for other artists, ranging from Pitbull and Ke$ha (“Timber”), Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood (“Somethin’ Bad”) and Rihanna (“California King Bed”).

Renea brings the range of her experience to bear on Coloured. You hear her fuse country with elements from contemporary R&B and hip-hop on “Gentle Hands,” but Renea says in interviews that her musical sensibilities and comfort level are in the country realm. Which leaves me to wonder: what algorithm did the good folks at Apple use to classify her as R&B? Not to be cynical, but believe that algorithm involved nothing more than seeing a black woman on the album cover and saying, ‘she’s R&B.’

There are probably a lot of country fans who will look at that cover and have the same reaction, and more than a few R&B fans will hear the guitar and mandolin on “Family Tree” and go no further. That’s their loss because that means they won’t get to hear the divine piano ballad “Heavenly.” You’re lucky because I am directing you to it right now.

I also direct you the track that definitely has the folks in Nashville clutching their pearls, “Land of the Free.” This is a political track about the fraught relationship between black people and law enforcement and whether asking people to confront that and other realities faced by blacks in the United States means that the messenger is not a good Americans. Because some people, including some country music fans, think that. Check them both out here.

Howard Dukes

 
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