PHOTO BY JOHN DECKER
I’ve known for a long time that Renee Maskin is an amazing songwriter and performer, but I had no idea that she could play so many instruments so well. A former member of the Makin Waves Band of the Year Award-winning Lowlight, Renee shines on the brand new self-produced Mint 400 Records LP, “Shimmer,” playing much more than her typical guitar accompaniment. She adds lap steel, piano, drums, bass, synthesizer, banjo and more to the mix.
If rainbows made music, it would sound like Renee’s dreamy lap steel on the opening “Rain Rain,” the LP’s third and latest single. She sings, “There’s a kind of light if you’re holding it right, you can almost see me shimmer,” hence the title of the album. The song is about being forced inside, literally and figuratively. Indoors from the weather, and internally in self-observation and reflection. It’s unapologetically catchy and singable in its chorus. At the same time, its lyrics ruminate over doubt, obscurity, and silence, making for engaging contradiction.
Equally wonderful is her studio interplay between acoustic and lap steel guitars on the Bakersfield-like train chug of “Nashville,” Renee’s lament of fellow Jersey scenesters leaving the Garden State for Music City. They include Jersey City’s Tom Barrett, who plays drums on the track, which was released as a split single with Tom’s “NJ Quite Like Tennessee.” Also on “Nashville” is upright bassist Mike Noordzy, who made up the trio Renee Maskin & the Mysterious Wilds with multi-instrumentalist Ben Ross. “Shimmer” is a follow-up to their self-titled early 2023 NACC Folk chart topper.
Mike also appears on a remake of the Wilds single, “Horses,” which gains aching melancholy from the gorgeous violin playing of Nicole Scorsone, who appears on nearly half of “Shimmer.” Nicole has played with River City Extension, Mike Costaney, Cold Weather Company, The Porchistas, and Tara Dente, another of Renee’s Jersey friends who moved to Nashville. She also contributes greatly to “Frustrated Painters,” a mix of chamber folk and progressive bluegrass that perhaps is a nod to the many starving artists Renee has known throughout nearly 25 years as a fixture in the Jersey scene, as well as the Tex-Mex-styled “Flamingo Pink” and the lushly atmospheric, bizarrely bittersweet “Mosquito Dreams,” which features a haunting vocal by Mint 400 label head Neil Sabatino, frontman of the veteran band Fairmont.
Renee’s distinctive voice is a staple of the thriving Asbury Park music scene. Merging indie-folk with country and experimental influences, her work is as grounded in traditional song craft as it is in offbeat delivery. After decades of touring with bands, she’s released three solo LPs and an EP in just under two years on Mint 400.
“Shimmer” is her most confident solo release to date. A mixture of sweetness and grit, it’s self-assured in both its catchiness as well as its quirkiness. Building upon familiar themes of isolation, restlessness, and reflection, simple song structures give room to vivid imagery, imagination, and wry humor. The album is cohesive in its play between Americana roots and modern scope.
My favorite track is “Scrimshaw,” another single that was turned into the local scene’s best video of the year by Renee’s talented BF, John Decker, who also shot the LP’s cover. Within a subtle battle between jangly guitar and plucky piano, both of which are played by Renee, the Gram ‘n’ Emmylou-like track has a hauntingly poetic sensibility, like a rootsy take on Patti Smith.
“Shimmer” also includes “California,” a disillusionment with and disappointment in the Golden State despite the album being influenced at times by the Bakersfield Sound that spawned Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. The closer is “Comber,” a stirring but somber-sounding thank you for a warm love in the face of a wicked winter.
You can hear live and celebrate the release of this terrific album on Nov. 18 when Renee returns to her hometown of Metuchen to play Old Franklin Schoolhouse. Sharing the bill at her record release party will be Girls On Grass, Hair Magic, and Mike Noordzy.
Renee will return to the Schoolhouse Nov. 30 to open for Jon Langford (The Mekons, The Waco Brothers). Then she’ll perform Dec. 1 at Salty’s, Belmar, with DJ 1KindWord and Dec. 2 at 148 Forest St., Montclair, with The Porchistas and Girls on Grass.
For more about Renee, https://linktr.ee/reneemaskin.