Renee Geyer is beyond a doubt the finest soul, blues, jazz and R&B singer ever to have come out of Australia. There are others of course, but no-one else, in the Antipodes at least, can belt it out quite like the way Renee can. Born in Melbourne, Victoria to Polish immigrants in the 1950’s, by the age of 16 she began singing in various jazz-blues groups before issuing a couple of albums in the early 70’s. It’s a Man’s Man’s World is Geyer’s second solo LP, and was the one which put her on the map when it was released in 1974, thanks mainly to her extraordinary cover of James Brown’s 1965 classic of the same name.
Joining her in the studio was an assortment of musicians who are likely not that well known, if known at all, beyond the Australian coastline. These were Phil Manning (guitar), a name most synonymous with the band Chain; Barry Sullivan (bass guitar) also from Chain; Tim Gaze (guitar) of Kahvas Jute; Steve Murphy (guitar) of Blackfeather (a group Bon Scott was once a member of, albeit very briefly), plus a few others none of whom I am familiar with but who definitely deserve mention. They are Tweed Harris (keyboards); Geoff Cox (drums), and Tony Naylor (guitar). So, as you can already see, that’s a whole lot of guitarists for one album.
The album kicks off with the title track, a wise move. If you haven’t heard Renee’s interpretation before, get onto YouTube now. It’s a powerful version, and one which became inadvertently a kind of feminist statement all its own, regardless of whether she was intending to make one or not. And considering that she was only in her early twenties when she recorded it makes it even more compelling.
The Soul continues with the Brass dominated “They Tell Me of an Uncloudy Day”. There’s some very tasteful guitar being played on here, not to mention Geyer’s extraordinary voice, which is both powerful and understated at the same time – in other words, the sign of a great singer. “Take Me Where You Took Me Last Night” is a bit of bouncy low key funk, while things get a little more serious on the bluesy and heartfelt “Since I Fell for You”. One thing’s for sure, one has to have truly lived to sing this kind of music and make it sound convincing.
The album is not without its commercial moments in the form of “What Do I Do On Sunday Morning”. Geyer’s vocals seem genuine enough, but the whole song is ruined by the string arrangements, which act as a form of insecticide to the emotion she is trying to express. Fortunately all is forgiven with the bluesy funk of “Love the Way You Love”, which has some kinky keyboards, along with a brief yet stylish guitar solo.
“Scarlet Ribbons” seems a little out-of-place, as if Geyer had been listening to Sandy Denny and thought she’d like to try her voice at a genre of which she wasn’t naturally suited to. The sweaty, sensual “Do Your Thing” is next, and it’s one of the best tracks of the album. Everyone’s in the pocket on this one, where you wouldn’t even know that the singer was actually white. Renee’s cover of The Beatles’ “And I Love Him” is sheer perfection, where she manages to transform the song into an entirely different animal altogether, turning it into a late night blues-jazz number.
Renee pleads her way for love through “It’s Been A Long Time”, while “Mama’s Little Girl” is quality mid-seventies AOR. The same goes with “Once in a Lifetime Thing”, a real schmaltz-fest if there ever was, and is something which should never have been on the album. However things end on a high note with the funky, James Brown inspired “Feel Good”, an extremely fun track indeed, and just the sort of musical elixir required to forget about Renee’s previous misdemeanour.
Renee Geyer remains the blackest white singer I’ve ever heard. Yes, there was Amy Winehouse (who wasn’t even born when this album was made), but she never had the range or power of Renee. It’s a Man’s Man’s World was something of a landmark when it was released, and remains an important record today, considering the current dearth of gutsy female singers in the Australian charts (both Gabriella Cilmi and Jessica Mauboy are both fine at what they do, but neither seem to me as being the sort of hard living, hard-drinking types; something which comes across in their music).
Now in her 60’s, Geyer is still going strong today, continuing to perform and release the odd album every few years. One thing’s for sure; many a young and aspiring female singer could certainly learn a thing or three by listening to Renee. The odd glass of scotch and cigarette probably wouldn’t go astray either. In fact both should be considered as something of a prerequisite in the singing business. Because at the end of the day, Geyer has a quality to her vocals which can’t be learnt in school much less on the latest series of X-Factor. You either have it or you don’t.