L'Renee - 2nd Chances (2007)

L'Renee
lrenee-secondchances.jpg
Click on CD cover
to listen or purchase
An independent project that sounds as robustly produced and mastered as a high-end, major label project? Nah; couldn't be, that's right up there with Loch Ness monster sightings. After all, not every artist can afford Herb Powers. But if 2nd Chances, the debut album of L'Renee, is any indication, the technology and craftsmanship on an indie project needn't sound like a Casio creation. Thank the Lord! One of the penances you suffer for being an advocate of independent soul music is that you end up listening to a lot of unintentionally spare, under-produced music. It's not every album, but just enough to stereotype the scene. As you listen to recordings that sound as though they were made in the bathroom, you try to tell yourself you don't miss the technologically advanced sound quality of highly skilled mastering because, hey, at least it's honest.
An independent project that sounds as robustly produced and mastered as a high-end, major label project? Nah; couldn't be, that's right up there with Loch Ness monster sightings. After all, not every artist can afford Herb Powers. But if 2nd Chances, the debut album of L'Renee, is any indication, the technology and craftsmanship on an indie project needn't sound like a Casio creation. Thank the Lord! One of the penances you suffer for being an advocate of independent soul music is that you end up listening to a lot of unintentionally spare, under-produced music. It's not every album, but just enough to stereotype the scene. As you listen to recordings that sound as though they were made in the bathroom, you try to tell yourself you don't miss the technologically advanced sound quality of highly skilled mastering because, hey, at least it's honest. In listening to the stellar 2nd Chances, audio quality may be an odd first thing to notice when the vocals are this pristine, the lyrics are this simple, and the live band/electronic music blend is this in the pocket. However, when it comes to a young artist who is making things happen largely on her own, you want to take your hat off to L'Renee for not skimping on the butter. You see, the rich musical goods here are delectable enough to eat.

A maverick Detroit-based artist, L'Renee has been blessed with an alto that breezily moves from sunny to sultry through this mostly solid 16 track set. L'Renee's notable vocal prowess aside, I have to first acknowledge the debt 2nd Chances owes to Scott Summers at Audio Magic Studios for so beautifully mixing and mastering this project and hip-hop producer rENCEN at Thinkers Lab Music District for his stylish productions on more than half of 2nd Chances. Producers DDT, Sick Notes, J-Active, Tony Ozier and Mr. Wright each contribute alternately whimsical danceable and romantic tracks that are bold and sophisticated, but that never swallow the creaminess of L'Renee's voice.

With their heavy compositional use of bracing electronic basslines, African percussions, and muscular bass guitar, the producer boys here make their presence strongly felt throughout 2nd Chances without ever elbowing their female star out of the frame.  This is undoubtedly due to the respect L'Renee earned on this project as its very capable arranger and superbly talented songstress, ensuring her place as equal partner among this band of brothers. If not for the strength of L'Renee's supple vocals and the sinuous background arrangements, 2nd Chances could have easily been a producer-driven album, so dominant are its tracks. Listeners benefit from this tension with songs that occasionally feel epic in scope.

Whether on leads or backgrounds, L'Renee proves a natural, effortless singer. As represented on the title track, background harmonies are always executed with a feather touch. On up-tempo grooves like the jump-start opener, "It's Ok," L'Renee's lead never strains for the tune's many difficult notes. On fine ballads such as "With or Without Me", L'Renee never mistakes breathiness for the desired airiness she's skillfully honed. Throughout 2nd Chances, L'Renee proves a consummate artist with the deserved confidence of a veteran.

L'Renee's vocal kinship ties are legion and none. On the closing of my personal fave, the throb and build "All I Need Is Time," some may hear a bit of Blu Cantrell. Others may suggest a hint of Adriana Evans on peppy cuts like "I Love My Life". There is definitely a bit of Sunshine Anderson on the elegiac "Simple" (only Anderson, sadly, never made a song quite this good). But there is such a caress in her voice, such an undeniable class to this young lady that one struggles to identify any single influence dominating her unique sound. With the glaring exception of an overwrought accapella cover of Carole King's "Natural Woman", L'Renee on 2nd Chances makes everything sound beautiful.

The lyrics on this finely made corset are simple and often hooky. The musical craftsmanship is generally so good, you don't notice or even really care that L'Renee's lyrical slip shows from time to time. The loose threads on this couture gown begin to unravel only when the track gets too long-winded and repetitive as on the house-tinged dance cut "Come On" or isn't as complex as the producer believes as in the moody-meets-spacey "Do Whatever." 2nd Chances works best when the song construction isn't straining to be avant-garde and sticks to its many ready-to-wear melodies as in the gorgeously constructed "Faithful." 

Overall, 2nd Chances is an enviable album from a talented, young artist who was blessed enough to have the skills, talent and resources surrounding her to produce a highly recommendable project. In this freefalling music industry, L'Renee has landed in the kind of circumstances that would make any major label ingénue these days pure jade. As 2nd Chances is already over a year old, I can only hope L'Renee is ready to give all of us fans a 3rd Chance real soon.

-L. Michael Gipson

 
Featured Album - Rahsaan Patterson - Heroes & Gods
Featured Album - Lasperanza - "Seeds"
Featured Album - Nichelle Colvin - Welcome to Gary

Leave a comment!