Wow. All I can say is wow. Vanessa Collier’s Meeting My Shadow arrived in my mailbox the other day and this unassuming package contained one of the most dynamite albums of the year. I was not familiar with her work, and even though she plays a lot in the Mid-Atlantic area, our paths had never crossed.
My friends from the DC-Baltimore corridor never clued me in on her, so obviously, I need to widen my circle of friends. She’s amazing. Collier sings, plays saxophone, and writes all but three of the eleven songs on the album.
Not only that, but she’s gathered some very strong musicians to play with her, including one of my favorite people in the whole world, Laura Chavez on guitar. Any record would be made infinitely better with Laura Chavez involved…
Other musicians involved are TK Jackson on drums, percussion, organ, and background vocals; Daniel McKee on bass; Charles Hodges on organ, clavinet, piano, and Wurlitzer; Mark Franklin on trumpet and Flugelhorn; Josh Roberts on slide guitar; Brenda Jackson on organ; and Lenny Bradford and Nicholas Stevens on bass and drums respectively on the opening song.
Poisoned The Well starts things off with a synth funk vibe. At first I’m not sure if I’ve picked up an ‘80’s throwback but when I hear Collier’s silky smooth voice I don’t really care about that. I want to hear more. She shifts subtly into a blues infused groove. It’s a little experimental, but I love her voice already.
She keeps the dance groove going on the next song, Dig A Little Deeper. The musicians have a good horn section going and the mixes well with the organ. Her vocals have a fine edge to them and that plays into her sax nicely.
Laura Chavez’ Resonator guitar gives When It Don’t Come Easy a sweet swampy feel. Collier’s voice is softer now, more of a seductive purr to offset the sharpness of the guitar and the power of the other instruments. Really like this number a lot and it shows that she’s got several dimensions to her. It’s also the first look at a deeper style of her lyricism.
Next up is a fun song that will be getting a lot of air play, at least on Time For The Blues, because I absolutely love Two Parts Sugar, One Part Lime. It’s a raucous Mardi Gras of a number with wailing sax and a rhythm that just won’t stop. You can dance, bop, or just shake in your seat, but once this song hits play, you will move. You must move. And you won’t stop until it’s over. Then, you’ll probably hit repeat…
The great U2 song, When Love Comes To Town, which they often performed with the legendary BB King gets a Collier makeover. Man, does she do it up right. Her voice is deep, soulful and gave me goosebumps the first time I listened to it. She’s controlled, gritty, and brings her own stamp to the song.
Next us is the very spare, You’re Gonna Make Me Cry, blues and country melded together to make a very sweet song. Collier’s voice aches and she speaks directly to your heart. As a follow up, Whiskey And Women is an interesting choice. She’s got a slow Chicago swing groove happening and her voice regains her edge and takes the song into new territory. This is another song that should get some serious air play and she has some of her cleverest lyrics with this cut.
I love the jazz sensibility of Meet Me Where I’m At. It’s a bouncy fun song and Collier’s vocals swing and dive in and out with joyous abandon. If you can’t have fun with this wonderful New Orleans style number, then you probably need a check up brother…
It’s a quick trip back to the funky side with Cry Out. Collier’s lyrics are dark and gives added strength to the song of social justice. On some artists, it comes off as posturing, but that’s not the case with Collier. She seems sincere and she uses the percussion and horns to give her words even more power. Very strong song.
Sister Rosetta Tharpes’ Up Above My Head, I Hear Music In The Air is a wonderful song. Here she gives it that religious fervor that drives the song. I especially love the keyboards and driving drums that just make you want to join the amen corner and raise your hands to the heavens. Laura Chavez once again demonstrates why she is one of my favorite guitar players with her break.
The album finishes up with Devil’s On The Downslide, a slower more deliberate gospel tinged number that is a beautiful complement to Tharpe’s anthem. Collier paints some beautiful pictures with her lyrics and her voice, softer now, leads us down a seductive path. I always picture these types of songs as a lone singer on a late night bandstand opening her soul to the audience. Some may be listening, some may be swaying back and forth while holding on to a partner, just letting the beauty of the song wash over them. It’s a gorgeous way to end the album.
I missed Vanessa Collier’s first album, Heart, Soul, & Saxophone, back in 2014, but after making her acquaintance with Meeting My Shadow, I will never miss another album. Lyrically, I think she is already among the strongest songwriters; musically, she’s among the best. And her voice has such a power to capture your heart.
Do yourself a favor and pick up this CD as soon as you can. I was fortunate enough to get an advance copy and I’ve enjoyed listening to it a couple of times. I was surprised by how quickly I fell under her spell and I hope to stay there for a very long time.
You can find out more about Vanessa Collier at her website, pick up her first CD (and I’m sure this one very soon) and see where she’s going to be next. The address is http://www.vanessacollier.com/ to get in on the (almost) ground floor for this amazing artist.