“I would rather have a concert for people who love me, than a room full of strangers,” were the words of Priscilla Renea, as she took the stage for a particularly intimate show.
Though the crowd was thin during her May 18 show at the Cats Cradle, those who did make the rainy trek to the infamous venue were in for a treat. As she introduced herself, she asked the audience to do the same, establishing a sort of friendship for the night. This was met warmly by several longtime fans who had been waiting years to see her perform live.
Needing no opener, Renea began the set with ‘JonJo’, an uptempo bluesy romp with an almost cajun feeling to it. It was as if the song was single-handedly trying to put the soul back into country-pop, and the audience was loving it.
One of the most incredible songs of the night was her rendition of ‘Timber’. As the original writer of the song, her passion really came through with every word. Accompanied by only a blues progression on an electric guitar, Renea brought the house down with a showcase of what jazz vocals can be in the modern era.
Not only did she open the familiar song with scatting, but she hit nearly every note within a three-octave range with absolute precision. Though primarily performing within an alto range, she blew the house down with whistle tones at the end, which would impress even the likes of Mariah Carey.
This was followed by ‘Lifetime Thing’, a love song which obviously found its roots in Nashville and classic country. She talked about her hopes for the future, with soft vocals which placed the emphasis on the lyrics rather than the power of her voice. It was a perfect artistic choice, as the nostalgic and hopeful words touched the parts of the audience which were not afraid to dream about what the future could hold.
Anita Greene, a long-time fan of Renea’s, has been following Renea’s career since 2007. About the artist, she said, “She’s one of my absolute favorites. I think her vocals are amazing and she is really a voice which we need in America right now.”
The necessity of Renea’s lyrics in the current American climate became especially obvious during a ballad titled, ‘Land of the Free’. The song followed her mixed feelings about being a black woman in America, especially in a time in which police brutality is constantly in the news. Before she began, she pleaded to the audience that if you “see something, say something. It’s getting out of control.”
The song lasted about five minutes, one of the longest of the night. Though it was unmistakably a country ballad, the conflicted lyrics were something completely out of the ordinary for country music. She discussed how she would always love America, but how she felt shame for it in the wake of this current period of political unrest.
Complete with a two-minute electric guitar rendition of the ‘Star Spangled Banner’, it was a chilling commentary on a disruptive political climate and the identity politics which accompany it.
Renea ended the set with ‘Denim’, a fun, poppy song comparing someone she loved to a well-worn pair of jeans. She beamed as she performed the finale of the night, with an obvious passion and excitement dripping from every syllable. It was a love song that could be identified with by anyone in the audience, yet it seemed completely personal when she performed it, with Renea obviously connecting deeply to every word.
After the show, Renea made her rounds of the audience, making sure to thank every person who had come to see her. She was warm and genuine, as she posed for pictures with long-time fans.
She is one of those rare artists who seems genuinely excited to meet her fans. She seemed proud to be building a career out of doing something she loves, something which was apparent both onstage and off. She just seemed happy to be performing her own songs for people who genuinely wanted to hear them.
It is this attitude which will hopefully allow Renea to build a solo career for herself, in the way in which she has built a career as a songwriter. If she continues to deliver performances like the one of May 18, it won’t be long until we hear her own voice accompanying her famous lyrics on the Top 40 charts.
Her album ‘Coloured’ will be released on June 22.