REVIEW: Renee Wahl & The Sworn Secrets’ “Cut to the Bone” is Career-Defining Moment

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If you haven’t been paying attention there is renaissance of recognition sweeping the music world and trust me you do not want to miss it.  Artists like Brandi Carlisle, Margo Price, Lilly Hiatt etc are making artistic statements through some of the most compelling albums on the market.  Thankfully this club still has room for more members and I would like to sing the praises and nominate Renee Wahl for immediate inclusion. Her stunning new album Cut to the Bone (Double R Records) stands as a testament to how hard work, inspiration and sheer talent still mean something in our short attention span, style over substance kinda world.

Wahl delivers a career defining moment with Cut to the Bone, out this Friday, March 15th. Helmed by guitarist Stuart Mathis (Lucinda Williams, Wallflowers) and recorded with an ace band featuring Ron Eoff on bass, Bill Livsey on keys and longtime friend and bandmate David Strayer on drums, the album crackles, barely able to contain the energy emanating from every track.  The album boasts nine songs, all but “From Here To There” were penned by Wahl (it was written by Brian Langlinais along with Randy Sitzler and Drew Nelson) and after the last note fades away you immediately feel the need to listen to it all over again. The lead track “To the Bone” sounds like if you took a film noir and wrung the darkness and suspense out of it and turned it into a song. Her voice is inviting and warning at the same time.  The song instantly draws you in with its pounding drums and masterful guitar work not to mention the subject matter. “To the Bone” is the perfect song to open this collection and it stands as an invitation to what comes next.

I’ve had the pleasure of hearing some of these songs live and “Cold Day in Memphis” has remained a personal favorite since the first time I heard it. The guitar part almost comes across as a duet, with Mathis delivering standout moment after standout moment.  The mood and distinct images Wahl conjures up are so real you can almost feel the chill in the air. “Temptation” is a sultry, sexy tease and the guitar twang shows up at the exact right moments. I could easily see Tarantino using this song or better yet, building an entire film around it.  “Meds” will hit home for many and it is a staggeringly honest, yet somehow humorous look at needing help.  I can’t imagine it was easy to write, not to mention the guts it takes to play it live in front of an audience. Besides her songwriting, Cut to the Bone serves as a showcase for Wahl’s incredible voice.  No song better illustrates her range and power than “Six Days Til Sunday”. The instrumentation takes a back seat and really lets her voice captivate and capture you.  Warning – This is one of those songs that will absolutely knock you over when you see her live.

Renee Wahl has arrived and her impact should be felt immediately. Her songs are uncompromising and never pander. The record is produced in such a way that the players can play, taking moments to shine all the while keeping the spotlight firmly trained on Wahl. This is a big record and Renee rises to the challenge of delivering something compelling and fresh at the same time. Fully realized, Cut to the Bone has already made my top 10 for 2019 and I hope it will make your year end list as well.

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