Chrissy Renick is a young pianist and singer who was apparently sneaking Alicia Keys and Aaliyah singles in between piano lessons. Her love of smooth, radio-ready R&B informs her first release, and the five-song A Thousand Shades EP sounds like a love letter to early-2000s pop radio. The instrumentation comes courtesy of some deft MIDI-ing from Andrew Stephen, though the electric piano flair on opening track "Colors of My Mind" complements the stop/start tempo and suggest a neo-soul pedigree. And that soul and R&B vibe carries much of the disc out of singer/songwriter or girl-with-piano territory and allows Renick a richer palette to push off. Sometimes that production can go overboard -- "Colors" occasionally loses itself in clever vocal manipulation and multi-tracking that draws focus from Renick's naturally strong voice -- but it's OK for an artist's reach to exceed her grasp on her first outing.
But even without studio trickery and piped-in string sections, Renick carries the soul in her voice and not necessarily in the set dressing. The EP closes with a live acoustic recording of "Autumn to Ashes," and the spare treatment gives more room for her vocal strains to come through unadorned. The acoustic setting is both a true test of a vocalist and an easy out for singer-songwriters: An EP full of piano ballads would be a snore, but a single take is enough to silence the doubters. So while the rest of the disc traipses through some familiar tropes, like the flat uptown funk on "Dirty Love Energy" and the note-bending melisma that pops up occasionally, Chrissy Renick takes enough chances to show talent and adventure in a familiar setting.