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Review: Renee Wahl digs deep on evocative Americana set

March 13, 2019
This cover image released by Double R Records shows “Cut to the Bone," a release by Renee Wahl and the Sworn Secrets. (Double R Records via AP)

Renee Wahl and the Sworn Secrets, “Cut to the Bone” (Double R Records)

The first sound of Renee Wahl’s voice on her fine new album is enough to set off the comparisons to Rosanne Cash.

The opener is “To the Bone,” and the song’s first line even includes a black Cadillac, which of course was in the title of one of Cash’s best albums. Wahl’s “Cut to the Bone” has more in common with Cash’s fiery, passionate earlier work, and yet it sets itself apart with an intensity all its own.

For all that, though, her voice has the same kind of let-me-tell-you-something urgency that set Cash apart. There’s the vivid writing, too, when she describes “the smell of chicken and gasoline” on “Cold Day in Memphis.”

But Wahl, an Air Force veteran and physicist who is also a teacher, demonstrates the capacity to dig deep. There’s the edge of anger mixed with warmth and regret, as on the title cut and “From Here to There,” a song set on a long drive across Texas as she daydreams about a man she knew in Ireland.

“Me Before You” is a cleverly structured ballad with an evocative melody. “In the Field” describes lying in a field where a soldier has died, set against an understated but persistent military drum cadence.

Despite the similarities to Cash, this is an ambitious, fresh contribution to the Americana canon. The songs are well thought out and finely crafted, and several of them seem likely to endure.

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