Renee & Jeremy’s Gentle Rock for All Folks

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I am haunted by gentle acoustic music from Renee Stahl and Jeremy Toback (Renee & Jeremy). Their deceptively simple, singable melodies will sweep you away and induce thoughts of “where were you when you first heard…” a particular tune. While Renee has recorded several CDs “…with friends,” Whole Lotta Love is her first full collaboration with Jeremy in nine years. You wonder where the time has gone, as there is a timeless spirit to the select selections, including standard-bearer “Here Comes the Sun” and modern classic “Roam” (from the B-52s).
‘Whole Lotta Love’ from Renee & Jeremy

The pandemic has brought Renee & Jeremy full circle. It all began in 2006, when Renee  (who was pregnant at the time), asked Jeremy if he wanted to contribute a song to a lullaby record she was planning to make. Jeremy played “Welcome To This World” for Renee and her husband, Paul. He had written the tune  for the birth of his son, Miles. Subsequently, Renee & Jeremy took their favorites and slimmed them into sparse, kid-friendly arrangements that can be enjoyed by the whole family. The full thunderous Guns ‘N Roses “Sweet Child O’Mine” isn’t exactly age-appropriate for the under-three diaper set. With the steady hand of longtime producer Rich Jacques, Renee & Jeremy turn the anthem into a dreamy, hummable lullaby. Fancy that, Slash.

In the 1960s, the folk movement was all about rediscovering precious, decades-old material and presenting it as originally conceived to audiences beginning to embrace rock and roll. Fifty years on, Renee & Jeremy spin that concept to present “what if” ethereal, gossamer re-imaginings of songs by Led Zeppelin (the title track), Sly and the Family Stone (“Everyday People”), and the Pixies (“Where Is My Mind”).

During the song selection process, Jeremy was intrigued when Renee and producer Rich suggested “Whole Lotta Love.” “The Zeppelin version is so blatantly sexual,” he recalled. “I really doubted that it was possible to transform and make it into a sweet family-friendly love song… Now it’s one of my absolute favorite things we’ve ever done.” Rich brought INXS’s “Don’t Change” into the mix during pre-production discussions. “I always loved the INXS original growing up, but just wasn’t sure if we could make it meaningful, R&J style,” Jeremy explained. But once the duo played it, they transformed a romantic anthem into a quiet, moving call for kids of all ages to simply be themselves. “Rich came up with that Leonard Cohen-esque arpeggio part while we were recording and it became a template for the rest of the record, in terms of emotional tone and textural spareness,” he added.

“Sweet Child O’ Mine” was the result of fan suggestions through Instagram. “I’m still a little amazed by how heartbreakingly touching it turned out,” Jeremy said. “Renee really touched on something deep with her vocal.” The rendition evocatively sums up who Renee & Jeremy are and what they want to do. “Our goal is not only to give comfort to actual children, but to the children inside all of us, who still need that nurturing and support,” he affirmed.

Renee admitted she wasn’t familiar at all with ‘Where Is My Mind’ but said, “We truly had a circe of trust, combed through a long list of curated songs, and tried it out. “Some songs we thought we were completely sure of, until we tried them in the room,” Renee said. “On paper, songs can feel so different until you add voice and vibe.” 

Considering Jeremy’s grunge rock origins (as bassist for the band Brad which featured Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard), the soft-rock, melodic recordings of Renee & Jeremy feel like an acoustic “time-out” for the West Coast-based duo. But maybe not. What’s more welcoming to young audiences, loud, ominous yowling or gentle, inviting easy-to-remember, call-and-response songs? The B-52s wrote “Roam” to make people dance. This duo revisited “Roam” as a gateway to music as a voyage towards respect and mindfulness. Renee & Jeremy put a whole lotta love into Whole Lotta Love

Whole Lotta Love is available on June 11 from Renee and Jeremy’s websiteAmazonSpotify, and Apple Music.

Here is the world premiere video for the song “Here and Now”:

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