R&B singer steps out of the “wilderness” with new album

In the Biblical parable of the lost sheep, Jesus speaks of a shepherd who leaves 99 sheep behind to find one that is missing. R&B singer Renee Dion identified with the lesson so much that she penned a song, “99,” based on the scripture.

“You'll come and find me, always remind me, what your love can do,” Dion sings on the opening track of her new album, Haven, which she will officially release at the Columbus Museum of Art on Thursday, Sept. 14. The song recalls a period in 2015 when Dion herself felt lost, and decided to quit making music.

“I was frustrated with my other attempts of putting out music and just feeling like it wasn't really going anywhere,” said Dion, who released two previous albums in 2011 and 2014. “Really, my desire has always been just to tour. I've never really had big aspirations to be on the Grammys or be a superstar. … I just felt like I haven't seen enough of the world yet with my music.”

But Dion's husband, Eric, encouraged her to create again in the spare bedroom, which he converted into a studio. So, for two years, Dion wrote in that room, taking tentative steps to produce her own songs for the first time with her keyboard and computer software. The result is a slow, soothing project with sparse instrumentation and dense vocals and emotion. Central themes are spirituality — found on tracks like “Anatomy,” which she described as a self-affirming “letter to God”— and romance, which characterizes “Monday,” a love song Dion wrote about her husband.

Sometimes the themes intertwine. “It's a constant change of who I'm talking to,” Dion said. “[At times] I'm talking to myself, others I'm talking to God, then I'm talking to Eric, and then, all at once, they're all talking to me.”

Though “haven” describes a safe space, Dion said the process of creating the album was anything but comfortable as she dealt with turmoil in her life, like losing a friend to cancer. “I would have to … pick up the pieces and come back to this room and just figure it out, pray it out,” she said.

But as she prepares for the new release and new performances, Dion feels firmly on the other side of her personal “wilderness,” which is also the title of the album's closing song — the only up-tempo track.

“You think you're about to get this heavy, dark [song], but I chose to make it more like coming out [of the wilderness],” Dion said. “You know once you go through that experience … there's so many blessing on the other side. … I wanted it to feel like a party.”