by D.C. Bloom
It’s not surprising that Deann Rene’s march to Texas singer/songwriter success has been a rather circuitous one. Because this daughter of San Antonio band directors grew up knowing that the best music — like complex formations —is rarely achieved by taking the easy, straight line route.
Now a fixture within Austin’s vibrant music community, Deann’s forthcoming release, Paint a Dream, proves that it is life’s varied experiences and heartbreaking disappointments that are essential ingredients for creating songs capable of touching another’s soul. Drawing from an array of genres and influences, including pop, rock, R & B and worldbeat, Deann has painted musical images worthy of both gallery walls and earbuds everywhere.
In many ways, Deann is making up for time lost to years with an unsupportive husband, who didn’t appreciate or encourage her passion for music. Consequently, he insisted that her musical endeavors be limited to singing the national anthem at sporting events and love songs at weddings. At the same time, Deann — who had earned a college scholarship for clarinet — decided she really wasn’t inclined to pick up the family baton and become a spats-wearing, Sousa-playing band director. She subsequently changed majors and studied graphic design both at Texas State University as well as for a brief time in Ohio. After landing in Austin in 1999, Deann worked at a since-shuttered advertising agency, where she had the chance to occasionally contribute vocals to client commercials. One memorable jingle was for a racquetball and fitness center, which found her singing new lyrics to the Prince hit “1999”. When recalling those blasphemous substitute lines, she is quick to laugh about the sales pitchy words she’d been required to sing: “Commit to get fit in 1999 for just $19.99.”
Fortunately for the fitness center, the calendar turned without bringing a lawsuit from Minneapolis.
But the 21st century would eventually bring something much better than legal woes. In 2004, Deanna gave birth to her son, Andrew. With his arrival came a new determination to put toxic relationships in her rearview mirror.
With the realization that there would be no better time than the present to finally start making the music she had always longed to share with the world, Deann was soon balancing the demands of young motherhood with the liberating freedom of taking her original songs to stages and venues that had once been verboten. Along with a childhood friend, Deanne began singing Spanish language songs in a Latin pop band. She’d go on to form a band of her own, paying those customary dues. First, with a midnight set on a Tuesday evening following punk acts , and then with a series of gigs both as a solo acoustic performer in addition to playing with her own five-piece band. Within months, Deanna was gracing the Saxon Pub stage, where she was joined by John Greer. This led to a monthly residency there with her full band
Along the way, she made the time to record her first album, Not Crying Today. The title track grew out of a comment she made to a close friend who’d called to ask how she was doing in the aftermath of a failed relationship that had left her feeling hopeless and defeated. When she put down the phone, she immediately started penning the lines that became her mantra of survival.
With her much-anticipated follow-up album — a decade in the making, but still decades ahead of Willis Allan Ramsey’s glacial pace — Deann Rene has moved well beyond national anthems to anthemic songs of universal appeal.
Paint a Dream was produced by husband, Kris Brown, along with Ron D’Agenio and Deann, and recorded at Austin’s Hoodoo Studio. Standout tracks include “Superman,” an homage to her son, who served as the inspiration for Deann’s steadfast drive to keep her musical dream alive; “Kiss Me,” which has a Stevie Nicks-like pleading vocal vibe, expertly augmented by Charlie Richards’ emotive lead guitar work; and a piercingly powerful song about a refugee’s wake-up call in the land of the red, whit blue upon finding that the American Dream can be an elusive bill of goods for those who find themselves unwelcome in this new land. “Paint Her a Dream” — which features worldly percussion from Kostamos Yiacoumis —issues a rebuke to those individuals who greet new arrivals with hateful catcalls to ‘Go back to where ya came.’
While “Paint Her a Dream” shows us that our shining cities on the hill could stand some buttressing and burnishing, “Mountain,” co-written with Steve Brooks, is a hard edged rocker with the hook line that serves as a call to action for singer and listener alike “If I want to see the other side, I have to climb this mountain.” The song “Take a Chance,” is an appeal to throw caution to the wind in the hope that letting go will ultimately lead to bigger and better things. This tune benefits from Ron D’Agenio’s keyboards that call to mind Danny Federici’s tasty and complementary playing on many an E Street Band track.
Deann Rene kept her own dream alive across the years and through the ups and downs of life, love, disappointment and setbacks. Her new album is a testament to everyone who keeps dreams alive, even when events conspire to defer them. Deann’s songs will inspire all of us who march to different drums and eventually find like souls with whom to band together. Paint a dream of your own … and stand back and take in what you’ve created.