Renee Austin,
Sweet Talk
(Blind Pig, 2003)

Like a hurricane churning up the Atlantic coast, newcomer Renee Austin has emerged onto the blues scene like a storm surge. Her debut recording, Sweet Talk, has created quite a buzz within the music industry, receiving plenty of positive feedback from blues aficionados across the country. Austin delivers a high-powered, high-voltage performance from start to finish. Like a stick of dynamite, her vocal strength explodes right from the very first note, practically taking your breath away. This California-born artist was raised in Austin, Texas, eventually moving north to Minnesota where her music career first began. Quickly becoming a fan favorite of the Twin Cities indie scene, she swept the Minnesota Music Academy honors with an independent release, Dancin' With Mr. Blue, taking home best blues album, best blues singer and best female vocalist awards.

The folks at Blind Pig Records wasted no time signing Austin, recognizing her full potential as a talented singer-songwriter. Sweet Talk contains 11 tracks, traveling across a multitude of blues formats from gospel, country and soul to boogie, honky tonk and jazz. Seven of these are original songs penned by the artist, sharing personal stories about love, both lost and found. Her Texas roots haven't been ignored and can easily be heard throughout this latest effort.

What immediately stands out on Sweet Talk is Austin's dynamic vocal range and emotional intensity. She sings from a place deep within her soul, grabbing your full attention and never letting go.

Sweet Talk starts off with a bang, right from the opening track, "Not Alone." This hard-driving blues tune highlights some great harp work by Joe Cook, as Austin belts out a gritty vocal performance that will keep your toes tappin'. The following track, "Pretend We Never Met," is an enjoyable duet with veteran blues icon Delbert McClinton. Both artists complement each other to perfection on this country-flavored R&B tune. Their duet sounds very natural, as though they've collaborated together on numerous occasions.

The tempo dramatically changes on, "Pour the Sugar Slowly," a sexy, sassy funk tune with a great call-and-response exchange between Austin's sultry voice and lead guitarist Kevin Bowe. The following track finds Austin exercising the gospel influence of her youth on "Bottom of a Heart." This high-spirited tune would motivate any congregation to jump to its feet. "Fool Moon" is a pleasant change of pace, allowing Austin to stretch out vocally on this jazz-flavored tune. "Bury the Hatchet" disguises itself as a slow shuffle, then suddenly detonates into a smokin' roadhouse blues number. "Unraveling" is a stunning example of Austin's vocal artistry on this contemporary blues track. She applies her incredible range with a rich balance of emotional accents as Dave Jensen sizzles in the background on trumpet.

As if saving the best for last, the final two tracks on Sweet Talk are a showcase of Austin at her finest. Both tunes are stripped down to the basics without all the bells and whistles. She absolutely shines on, "Ain't Nobody," a honky-tonk tune highlighting the expressive sincerity of her voice, with Bruce McCabe tickling the ivories. "Black Pearl" is a swampy, sultry, delta blues tune, finding Austin articulating this style with complete authority.

Sweet Talk is an impressive collection of blues music with plenty of punch. Austin's energetic performance and vocal application can dominate any musical format put in front of her. My one concern with this new release is the number of blues styles being presented, many sounding very similar in strength and intensity, at times distorting the specific style and its message. Time and experience will certainly mold Austin into this genre and tame her vocal prowess to legendary status. There's nothing pretentious about this young artist; her new CD is pure heart and soul. Austin's talent is a force to be reckoned with, this latest recording is sending a message, telling everyone she's here to stay. Sweet Talk is definitely worth your time and attention, a CD you'll listen to again and again.

- Rambles
written by Pamela L. Dow
published 31 January 2004

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