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Caffeine and Guitars: Reina Williams, March 4 at Peace and A Cup of Joe

March 11, 2010
By

| Image by City Paper Digi-Cam

Reina Williams is one of the more unique musicians working in Baltimore these days, someone who straddles a few different genres. As a hip-hop producer, she’s made beats for brash young rappers like Lil D, and recently won the producer competition No Guts No Glory at 5 Seasons two months in a row. As a solo artist, she’s a singer/songwriter who gigs around town with an acoustic guitar, and plays every other Thursday night at Joe Squared. This past Thursday, she pulled double duty, doing her usual dinnertime set at Joe Squared and then traveling downtown a few hours later to perform at Peace and a Cup of Joe, a coffee-shop across the street from the University of Maryland.

The vibe at Peace and a Cup of Joe was loose and casual, kind of a black hippie hangout. And the jovial, playful tone of the evening was set largely by the host, soul singer Marc Evans, and his small house band of guitarist Kevin Jackson and human beatbox Chuck the Madd Ox. They played a wide variety of covers, always leaving space for the more extroverted members of the small audience to jump in with backing vocals, and a sign-up sheet at the door for anyone who wanted to step up for the open mic segment.

When Williams arrived for her set, she’d already loosened up with some tequila at her earlier show, and kept the goofy, spontaneous feel of the evening going. She warmed up with a smokey, dramatic cover of George Michael’s “Father Figure,” a cover choice that playfully nodded to the gender role reversal inherent in much of the bisexual singer’s original songs. The selections from her recent Full Circle EP ranged from “Ooh Damn”—a salacious club song that, Williams said, she tried to sell to other artists on the premise that it could be a hit for Pretty Ricky—to more earnest, mid-tempo material such as “Stronger Than That” and “Let It Flow.”

Toward the end of her set, she dropped another cover—Blue Traveler’s “Hook”—and as painfully unhip as the selection was, she made a convincing case for it being a great little song, and its sorta-rapped bridge even fit well into her own songwriting style. Peace and a Cup of Joe welcomed her offbeat personality with open arms, and when she was done it was back to cracking jokes and letting volunteers sing a song or two.