Ren Harvieu’s story is one of miraculous triumph over adversity. Of being nearly paralysed after a freak accident at 21, years of grafting her way through working men’s clubs (rather than glitzy television talent shows). Her story has all the ingredients of a successful film. If Through the Night began to play over the final triumphant scene we’d all be up and out of our seats, but not on the strength of the music alone. Undeniably possessed of a wonderful, powerful and real voice, Ren Harvieu feels let down by the production which feels almost as if the cotton wool that was understandably put around her has not quite been taken off.
The music that surrounds her voice is slightly over-polished and while Ren is almost always centre stage, the backing track at times verges on the aneamic. It is as if in trying not to distract from it, they’ve instead provided something too light weight, without the heft that complements and catalyses, allowing vocals to truly soar. First track Open Up Your Arms slowly builds its string flourishes before Ren’s voice is emerges front and centre building and soaring before, weirdly, it ends with out much resolution. Before Tonight’s big brassy intro, punctuates the space around a more sultry, smoke-y vocal style, after the enticing ante-room of the first track it feels like here she really arrives.
She is a torch singer, in a classic unreconstructed sense, there are few stylistic surprises here, which is not a problem. But a number of these songs don’t seem to have as many ideas, or killer hooks as they might, usually hanging from one central motif. Often they swell, and soar and build – and occasionally as on Walking in the Rain everything falls together and intersects nicely – but at times the backing music sounds ‘cheap’ (Forever in Blue’s percussion that sounds ‘coconut-esque’) or pushed to the periphery as on Do Right by Me.
Some tracks (Walking in the Rain, Summer Romance) really reap the benefits of letting her voice soar unimpeded. Her vocal range is impressive, and we’re treated to full bellied suitably Bond-theme roars, sultry and coy coos on Through the Night, or as on album standout, Holding On, the most fully formed narrative – a whiskey soaked blues bar soulful country. The best tracks here really nail the musical accompaniment, the mournful tones of brass either amplifying or wonderfully juxtaposing with her voice.
Ren – young, delicate, still recovering from a terrifying accident – has produced an album that feels as if she is still being handled with kid gloves. It is certainly admirable to get straight back to it, but perhaps if she’d taken longer, grown her own voice, and produced more of the bold and brassy tracks she’d have produced an album that was more distinctive, more powerfully her own and more worthy of her triumphant backstory.