“I love the smell of whisky, and I hate the taste of gin, but I’ve always been at home in a place that’s soaked in sin...”
Yep, Colleen Rennison’s back in town. Winter suddenly got warmer.
The 25-year-old Canadian blues belter fronts No Sinner, the band everyone’s talking about since Amazon made Boo Hoo Hoo their free single of the week.
No Sinner? It’s Rennison in reverse. Geddit?
The band’s debut mini-album Boo Hoo Hoo came out towards the end of January in the UK, and it’d be a sin to miss it.
Because Colleen Rennison is a hard-singing, hard-loving, hard-drinking, hard-working throwback to the icons she grew up listening to – Nina Simone, Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Big Mama Thornton and Bessie Smith.
“People have told me I sound like Janis Joplin since I was five years old,” says the Canadian songbird, who has a penchant for denim cut-off pants.
“My mom was a little wary of introducing me to Janis’s music at an early age. Maybe she wanted to keep me away from sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll as long as possible.”
If that was the case, mom failed miserably because Rennison is inciendiary.
The mini-album finds her in the bad company of guitarist Eric Campbell, drummer Ian Browne and bassist Bradley Ferguson. Back home in Canada, they’re already building a huge reputation.
Boo Hoo Hoo travels from the juke-joint jump blues rockabilly of its title track to the bad-ass blues rock and roll of Devil On My Back, which finds Matt Camirand’s scuzzy bass moonlighting from the Black Mountain day job.
Running is Delta swamp, albeit more Quo than Creedence; Love Is Madness rides a Motown bassline and has a Dusty Springfield “Spooky” vibe; Rise Up is a spiritual for which Rennison smooths out her world-weary vocal.
There’s a cover of Nina Simone’s version of Nat Adderley’s Work Song, but it’s That’d Be The Day that sends shivers down the spine as Rennison duets simply but soulfully with Campbell’s softly overdriven guitar.
No Sinner’s music, says Rennison, is about the clash between the sacred and the profane, the preacher and the devil, the sins of Saturday night at the being washed away on Sunday morning in church.
It’s the contradiction at the very heart of rock’n’roll.
“We need a healthy dose of good and evil in our lives,” says Rennison. “Music is a medium between us and the spiritual world. Our songs express the gamut from sinful to celestial.”
So how did it all start after she heard Janis sing Mercedes Benz.
In her hometown of Vancouver, Rennison started writing songs with Parker Bossley (formerly of Hot Hot Heat) and joined up with future band members Campbell and Browne, for a weekly Thursday night residency at Guilt and Company, a club in Vancouver’s Gastown district.
“I honed my chops, my stage confidence, my style and versatility,” she explains. “I learned to play with other musicians.”
Known for performing in a T-shirt and cut-off jeans, Rennison’s larger-than-life, whiskey-swigging, last of the red hot blues mamas is no act.
“So much of the music I started listening to as a girl came from churches and gatherings where people congregated and sang their blues away,” she says.
“‘It’s a dirty business loving me,” I warn in If Anything,” she grins. “That’s a disclaimer for anyone who wants to get involved with me.
“I’m warning you now.”
Rennison is an old soul, wiser than her years might suggest. “I want to bridge the gap between class and trash,” she says. “I love the idea of these women who very much lived in a man’s world, touring on the road.”
Certainly her performance echoes Maggie Bell’s early days in Stone The Crows, and traces a path all the way through to contemporaries such as Gin Wigmore. It’s old school and proud of it.
“We write whatever comes to us. We’re fans of a variety of different sounds and all kinds of music. We’re inspired by the way bands like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, early Kings of Leon and the White Stripes brought the blues and rock back to basics.
“We’re into so many different styles of music that we have the liberty to do what we please. We really don’t have a formula.
“We’ve here to make our own mark. Now stop asking questions, and listen to the music...”