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renee austinRenee` Austin - This Texas by way of Minneapolis blues/jazz/soul belter's first nationally available disc made a substantial impression out of the box in late 2003. It received major press attention and was nominated for a W.C. Handy Best New Artist Debut award. Even a cursory listen shows why. Austin's tough, husky growl can be as gutsy as Tina Turner or as tender as Maria Muldaur. Although her stunning duet with Delbert McClinton on 'Pretend We Never Met' is one of the album's obvious highlights, it's by no means the only striking track. The soulful 'When Something Is Wrong' recalls Ann Peebles' Hi label work and Austin gets downright nasty on the grinding sexy funk-rock of 'Pour the Sugar Slowly.' Incorrectly pigeonholed strictly as a blues artist (probably due to her Blind Pig label  affiliation), Austin is closer to a classic R&B vocalist in the tradition of Etta James and Turner.

Also impressive is that the multi-talented musician - who plays guitar and piano live - was responsible for penning all but four of these tunes, an unusual accomplishment for a female singer. Her writing is sharp and diverse as she shifts gears from the gospel fervor of 'Bottom of a Heart' to 'Fool Moon'is
bluesy jazz lounge mood, just two songs that display her impressive range. Far from scattershot, Austin's talented band and the disc's smart pacing display her strengths without sounding as if she's giddily jumping genres. Like McClinton - an obvious role model - her presence is so powerful that she's comfortable in a variety of grooves and, at least on the basis of this album, succeeds at all of them. ~~ by Hal Horowitz.

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