Christopher Loudon reviews one of last year’s most exciting jazz vocal releases.
By Christopher Loudon
René Marie doesn’t care what this review says. She makes that clear right off the top in the title track, a nakedly bold career mission statement that dismisses the “blah-blah-blah of critics.” But what everyone else needs to know is that Black Lace Freudian Slip cements Marie’s place among the vocal elite. The voice is as stunning as always, her phrasing immaculate, her ability to pack emotional wallops equaled by very few. As a songwriter and story renderer, weaving profound tales of despair and triumph, championing her beliefs about empowerment and personal fulfillment, she shares a plateau with the likes of Nina Simone, Oscar Brown Jr. and Joni Mitchell.
The title track also emphasizes Marie’s tendency toward “shooting straight from the hip,” a passion she has been exercising since the onset of her late-breaking career. Indeed, Marie’s very existence as a vocalist is a result of her admirable stalwartness. When, at age 41, she was issued an ultimatum from her husband of 23 years that it was either music or marriage, she chose music and has never looked back. In the liner notes to her sophomore release, 2001’s Vertigo, she said, “It’s not like I have an agenda. But since I returned to performing, I discovered I have something to say.” Since then, Marie has been steadily shaping profound musical statements, both personal and public, culminating with her maelstrom-igniting decision in 2008 to recast “The Star-Spangled Banner” using the lyrics of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” at the mayor’s State of the City address in Denver, her adopted hometown. That incident, which escalated to death threats, informed Marie’s earlier 2011 album, Voice of My Beautiful Country, an affecting portrait of individualistic patriotism.
Defending her songs, and her right to present them, is the subject of Black Lace Freudian Slip’s second track, “This for Joe,” which recalls an incident involving the titular character, manager of a Chicago club who chastised her for straying beyond the Gershwin and Porter songbooks. “I can’t be a good girl singing standards all nice and sweet,” she sings. “’Cause that was then, this is now … Singing the songs I write is an uphill battle/Come on and give me a fight, set my cage to rattle.” Bravo and amen. Ardent cage-rattlers have of late been few and far between, and Marie’s gutsiness in taking up the torch is to be both admired and cherished.
Her distinctiveness as an interpreter of original (and mostly self-composed) material continues across the album’s remaining dozen tracks. The marvelous triptych of “Wishes,” “Thanks, But I Don’t Dance” and “Free for a Day” (the latter two co-written by Patti McKenny and Andrew Sussman) provides varied perspectives—regret, bittersweet remembrance and the desire to re-embrace the wide-eyed amazement of childhood—on disillusion.
“Rim Shot,” hotter and more sensually satisfying than the version included on 2007’s Experiment in Truth, overflows with delightful double entendres of the type that were Dinah Washington’s stock-in-trade. Romantic and personal disappointment invade both the wistful “Gosh, Look at the Time” and the fatalistically introspective “Fallin’ Off a Log.” Willful perseverance fuels her blazing reinterpretation of “Rufast Daliarg,” previously included on 2004’s Serene Renegade and crafted as a singular declaration of independence for her sons. Finally, there is “Deep in the Mountains,” written by eldest son Michael, a magnificent credo to struggle and hard-won triumph that seems a fervidly enfranchising, seven-decades-later response to “Strange Fruit.”