"Red! Leather! Spiked! High! Heels!" So begins the aptly titled Serene Renegade, the high-struttin', kickass, all-the-things-she-is latest from MaxJazz magician Rene Marie. This album righteously confirms the dynamic Virginia-born stylist's place alongside Cassandra Wilson, Dianne Reeves and Patricia Barber at the forefront of contemporary female vocalists. "Red Shoes," a sexy, sassy nod to Rene's sister, Lynn, is just one of nine Marie originals that sate this magnificent exercise in musical eclecticism. Her bracingly triumphant "The South Is Mine," a fiery, soul-stirring statement of personal emancipation that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" and Nina Simone's "Four Women," follows. Then there's the exquisite "Wishes," a reverent, Joni Mitchell-esque treatise on turning desire into action.
"Pause" brilliantly underscores the persistent ache of extricating one’s self from a painful relationship, while "Many Years Ago" and "Little Girl" provide radically different perspectives on the joys and woes of growing up. Rounding out Marie’s glowing celebration of family, friends and finding one’s way are the prayerlike "Ode to a Flower," a softly spirited homage to her mother Daisy, and the effervescent "Rufast Daliarg," written, she explains in the liner notes, in motherly appreciation of her sons, Desmond and Michael. Oh, and as if so gorgeously multi-shaded a lily as Serene Renegade need gilding, Marie also delivers a shimmering "Hard Day’s Night" dripping with temptation, and a gloriously pouty "Lover Man Oh Where Can You Be" of bonfire heat. Stunning. Simply, utterly, stunning.