2001 was a banner year for Irene Sage. She had her first solo gig at the prestigious New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Her CD, Come On In, released for the occasion, was a top seller there, and glowing reviews praised the singer/songwriter's work. It was quite a return to the entertainment business for a musician who took three years out to give birth and spend time with her daughter. With her husband/musician Scott Conklin's encouragement, she got back to stage life, but with a mature woman's outlook.
This perspective is reflected in the eclectic choice of material on Come On In, featuring everything from torch songs to the blues, and rock to a lullaby. Sage's sultry voice is compelling on tunes such as her cover of Etta James' "At Last," as well as her signature tune, "Garden of Eden." The lullaby has all the tenderness of a loving mother. Her musical colleague Anders Osborne produced the album, which features John Gros, Jason Mingledorff, and Coco Robicheaux.
Robicheaux has served as her mentor, and Sage went on a 1998 European tour with the blues man. She credits him with teaching her about the blues and its delivery. But Sage sees rock as her roots, and her musical past supports that assessment.
As a young girl from Arabi, in one of the parishes outside New Orleans, Irene Sage got her start singing with a group called Common Knowledge. The band had a good run in New Orleans and venues on the East Coast. Sage turned this success into another when she formed Irene & the Mikes. The moniker reflected the fact that "Mike" was the first name of all the musicians in the band. The group was the popular resident band at a local New Orleans hot spot, Checkpoint Charlie's. The band specialized in covers of rock artists, such as Fleetwood Mac and Humble Pie. They were a good-time party band, perfect for the boisterous crowds that gathered in the French Quarter for Mardi Gras and other events.
It was a fortuitous meeting with one of those out-of-town guests in the audience that offered Irene & the Mikes a very high-profile gig, performing in the film The Pelican Brief. That was the high-water mark for the band. Sage and her band parted company in 1995 after a record deal fell through and she had made the decision to take some personal time off. The hiatus from professional life seemed only to have helped the artist establish a firmer footing in her professional persona and a more developed singing voice. Sage returned to live performing in New Orleans clubs and elsewhere. With the success of Come On In, the music world will be sure to be hearing a lot more from her.