Renee Sebastian's CD release party is on Wednesday, March 19, at 9 p.m. Admission is $5; call 552-7788 or visit www.elbo.com for more info.
Not quite neo-soul and not quite old-school, Renee Sebastian dresses the sunny simplicity of classic soul in the slick new duds of radio R&B, not unlike a purer version of Ne-Yo or Beyoncé's approach. Though the California-born, Philippines-raised singer splits her time between San Francisco and New York these days, both cities would be lucky to claim her as their own. She makes accessible songwriting look easy on her new EP, but anyone who has heard even mediocre R&B knows it isn't, and will welcome Sebastian's strong, smooth voice and these expert full-band arrangements. She's also brutally honest, tackling her teenage pregnancy on the hip-hop-flavored opener "This Is Me" and all but offering herself as a sacrifice on "Please Break My Heart." The lighter "Good Morning Son" is about making time for her kids, while the hidden track "Her Beauty" finds Sebastian alone at a grand piano for a spare, heartfelt gem worthy of John Legend. "Every Lesson" is probably the catchiest track here, with horns, finger snaps, and a commanding bass line leading her into a vocal hook that's cheesy on paper but perfectly passable when sung so warmly. Likewise, her honeyed soul songs might float away if they weren't grounded by such textured instrumentation and the weight of her consistently personal lyrics, which set her apart from the pack and then some.