Renee and the Walkaways – The Walkaway Sessions (2014)

The genesis of this easy-rocking, blues-belting, soul-lifting collection of songs has probably played out — with far less success — on a million couches, in a million musician’s living rooms. Renee Cheek and David Hyde started with a wish list of guests. Cheek, a singer just as adept at the winking aside as the sultry come on, and the Julliard-trained bassist Hyde even arranged the songs on The Walkaway Sessionsindependently released this week — with certain all-star voices in mind.

Who hasn’t thought something along those lines? You can imagine the conversation playing out: What if Dr. John played keyboards on my song “Finally Found,” or “Goodbye Bobby Charles” — or both? Wouldn’t “Fool” and “A Song for Robert” sound cool with the addition of Augie Meyers of the Sir Douglas Quintet? Marty Balin, the guy from Jefferson Starship? He’s perfect for “In the Middle of the Night” and “Daydreaming.” Who wouldn’t want to collaborate on a track with Al Johnson, famous of the legendary Mardi Gras anthem “Carnival Time”? What if we could get Marcia Ball, Pete Anderson (Dwight Yoakam), Shane Theriot (Hall and Oates, the Neville Brothers), John Bush (Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians), bouzouki master Beth Patterson and Leon Medica (Louisiana’s LeRoux)?

Thing is, all of that happens on The Walkaway Sessions — impishly named, since that’s what all of these famous folks did: Play their ever-loving asses off, then split. It took trips by Cheek and Hyde to Austin, Nashville, New Orleans and Baton Rouge, even Tampa, and some studio magic from engineers like Nelson Blanchard, to get all of these dreams fulfilled. But it happened, one by one by one. Cheek and Hyde then surrounded those performances with their own broader musical vision. That proves to be the string that holds The Walkaway Sessions together.

Rather than sounding pasted together, the results bristle with a singular kind of feel — and no small amount of emotion, notably on the Charles tribute song. (Renee says she has taken lasting inspiration from attending the composer of Fats Domino’s ageless “Walking to New Orleans” during his very last recording sessions.) “In the Middle of the Night,” meanwhile, unfolds like a mysterious swamp ride. “No Regrets,” co-written by Johnson and featuring his familiar bark, quickly becomes a new anthem for Cajun YOLO-ers. “Easy Come Easy Go,” with Meyers on an old-school Vox Continental organ, two-steps along with a feel straight out of “She’s About a Mover.” And “Too Stupid to Stop” is as much fun as it sounds.

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Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.