“Sometimes,” Renee Dion said, “you gotta come home.”
Dion spent seven years of coming of age in Chicago, fled to Atlanta for a year to escape a broken heart and stopped off in Los Angeles for a few months after losing her job. By 2009, it was time to return to Columbus.
“This is the last place I thought I was going to come back to,” Dion said.
Relocating to her hometown didn’t feel like a step forward at the time, but in retrospect Dion needed time and space to reflect on everything she’d experienced — and to channel those experiences into music. “The Rhapsody Inn” and “The City That Sleeps,” the pair of avant-garde R&B albums Dion unveiled this year, were the first official releases of her career.
She was a songwriter from the start, though; born to a jazz DJ and an English teacher in Youngstown, her creative juices were flowing by the time her family moved to Columbus when she was seven.
“My only thing was music and journaling, and that in turn turned out to be songs,” Dion said.
As adulthood approached, she continued to create and even performed live sometimes during her tenure at Chicago’s Columbia College. Her love of spontaneity meant few of those songs got a proper studio treatment, though she did lay down a still-unreleased set of recordings over Coldplay samples.
By the time Dion was back in Columbus, she felt complacent about music. That changed when, on the recommendation of several friends, she began collaborating with former Fort Hayes classmate Brandon “B-Jazz” Scott of jazz-hop band The Liquid Crystal Project.
Dion fondly remembered Scott’s ear for music — “He didn’t have the same set of rules that we had ’cause he was just that talented.” — but she didn’t realize how kindred a spirit she was dealing with until they hit the studio and started to create.
As her freestyles unfurled over his instrumental tracks, they formed the basis of “The Rhapsody Inn,” a six-song set of jazz-infected neo-soul that bears the marks of Lauryn Hill and Gil Scott-Heron. That album dropped in March, followed six months later by “The City That Sleeps,” a tripped-out R&B curveball that’s among the weirdest, most intriguing releases out of Columbus this year.
“I am a city that sleeps,” Dion explained. “I definitely had to be woken up musically.”
“The City That Sleeps” is the sound of waking up, though possibly on the wrong side of the bed. It starts out dark and murky, “My Song #7” channeling the gurgling creepiness of Radiohead’s “Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors.” Next, “Get A Room” bridges the gap between Madvillain’s mind-bending synths and Drake’s melancholy keyboard wash.
When Dion appears with leftfield R&B singer Peter Hadar this Friday at Suite 143 Lounge, she’ll split the difference between the two albums. Expect some freestyles as well, thanks to those formative years with dad’s jazz records.
“That’s part of the way I approach music,” Dion said, “and the way I approach life.”