MEL LEHAN HALL AT ST. JAMES i
3214 West 10th Ave, Kitsilano
Accessible All ages
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This show cannot be streamed because of staffing issues.
Colleen was recently profiled in the French ROLLING STONE. View a PDF of the article here.
With her album Persephone, Colleen Rennison surfaces at last from the darkness that took her. As the frontperson for the late blues-rock combo No Sinner, Rennison won the cult-like veneration of fans and critics alike, frequenting the outer rings of success while repeatedly stumbling into self-defeat. It’s generally agreed that Vancouver produced nobody more ready and able to mount the world stage. If a barrier existed to greater fortune then it was Rennison herself, since the outsized talent is matched only by her outsized demons.
The singer-songwriter doesn’t hesitate to admit this. Persephone, in fact, belongs inside a tradition of albums that marry lacerating confession to ebullient, uplifting songcraft. The title track is pure thrills, speeding along like a dissolute partygoer hitching a ride with the Spencer Davis Group, but it’s also loaded with meaning. Just a few years ago, Rennison was roaring through the streets of Austin, Texas—sans helmet—on a motorbike named “Persephone”, but she clearly identifies with the song’s namesake, a creature of Greek myth who returned from exile in the underworld to bring abundance and life. There’s something ambivalent about the dissonant choir and lugubrious strings that eventually consume the track, like a nod to the precariousness of Rennison’s newfound sobriety.
Rennison eventually repeated her burnout pattern in Texas, as she had previously in New York and Vancouver. Returning to her hometown just in time for a pandemic and the devastating realization that she had, in her own words, “no real friends,” Rennison hit the very last wall. Enter Stephen Jeffery, a longtime admirer who offered shelter and the space to get clean and make the record Rennison had been incubating for years. Producer Felix Fung was tapped for his savant ability to conjure the vintage feel Rennison wanted, while the duo’s own handpicked Wrecking Crew—including Unleash the Archers guitarist Andrew Kingsley, bassist Max Sample, and drummer Shawn Mrzak—turned in a record that harkens back to the luxurious, cinematic work of showbiz queens like Bobby Gentry, Dusty Springfield, Linda Ronstadt, and Bonnie Raitt. It’s a fully formed, two-sided album of country, soul, and pop, hitting all the necessary points between Memphis, Muscle Shoals, and Motown.
Undistracted by modern signal and noise, all this was done inside Fung’s refuge while the world descended into a technocratic dystopia outside the studio walls. Most important, Rennison found the internal discipline to make her first complete artistic statement. “No more putting myself in dangerous situations,” she says, recalling the blackout years with No Sinner, where so much was compromised to the industry buzzsaw and her own pathologies. “My concern now is mental health, personal accountability, taking responsibility for the choices I’ve made, the hearts that I’ve broken, the guilt that I hold, but also having to let it go and move on. That’s so much on the album.”
While Rennison’s emotions are laid bare in minor key digressions like the gorgeous, piano-led “Means to an End”, the torchy “Fork in the Road”, and melancholy album closer “Some Things You Lose” (a co-write with her old No Sinner collaborator Eric Campbell), the mood of Persephone is largely elevated, subject matter be damned. The towering “I Do” soars from Motown bounce to passionate insistence; “The Taker” puts plush Rhodes to the service of a “cautionary tale” about an emotional vampire, with Fung’s crisp production seemingly in dialogue with Rennison’s emotional clarity; “Circles” is an astonishingly giddy hymn to insomnia and anxiety, recalling the double-edged sunshine-psyche of the Poppy Family; “Crawling on the Ceiling” is like a ‘60s Girl Group manifesto about forever fucking up. Each song is cut like a gem filled with little surprises, whether it’s a swirling fugue-like outro, Salvation Army horns, or the sudden, heart-wrenching appearance of a flute.
Finally, the country-soul inflected “Piss on my Shoes” has the feel of an accidental, last minute hit. It came late in the recording process and you can hear the sense of relief, the breezy recklessness and good humour after five crushing days in the studio and who knows how many months of Rennison pouring her guts into the material. Experience it as a deceptively casual statement of triumph. It’s Colleen Rennison at her most confident and self-possessed. It’s the sound she makes after 10 years of battling herself, only to discover she’s winning.