In addition to its invocation Miles Davis’ classic Sketches of Spain, one of the most striking features of Pru’s “Sketches of Pain” is the lyrical content. In fact, one listen to the self-titled album from which it is taken will leave you in no doubt as to the fact that Pru Renfro is the latest of an increasing number of highly literate artists that are subtlety changing the landscape of contemporary R&B lyricism. Hailing from Houston, Texas, this talented young performer can very much be seen as a further addition to the emerging school of poetics characterised by the likes of Ursula Rucker and Jill Scott. Bearing the undeniable influence of the spoken word scene (check the end of “Can’t Compare Your Love”) this bohemian artist’s highly eclectic album is in many ways a poem set to music.
Incorporating the slightly rougher edges of folk and rock, the relaxed vibe of jazz, blues and soul, and the spiritual essence of gospel, this is an extremely disparate album. On the folk/rock side of things “183 Miles”, “Aaroma”, “Got Me High”, and “Reason Why” are all well worth investigating and could easily be singles in their own right. For those more inclined towards R&B or soul, the wonderful “Prophecy of a Flower”, the mesmerising jazz-tinged “Hazy Shades”, and the moody single “Candles”, with its nod to the Miracles’ “Tracks of My Tears”, are each worthy of note. Also demanding attention are the funky mid-tempo groover “Cant Compare Your Love”, the breezy “Sketches of Pain”, and the exceptional brassy two-step “What They Gone Do?”. Nevertheless, of equal interest is the Latin-influenced interpretation of Sade’s “Smooth Operator”. Directly preceded by the excellent “Salsa Interlude”, it comes complete with warm keys, lilting guitar, sublime flute ad-libs, and the occasional burst of quasi-drum’n’bass percussion. It may sound like a somewhat unlikely combination but the result is quite exceptional.
In many ways “Smooth Operator” is indicative of the album as a whole. Much like Tommy Sims’ excellent Peace & Love, Pru’s eponymous debut succeeds in incorporating a whole range of musical influences without sounding disjointed. With her significant artistic presence creating a sense of unity throughout, Pru invites us to partake in a journey of the emotions. At once innocent, self-assured, uncertain, elated and vulnerable, she encourages the listener to relate to her experiences, and in doing so displays a depth of character significantly greater than many of her contemporaries. With an emphasis on live instrumentation and thoughtful lyrics, this is a varied album that offers further rewards with each and every listen.