There’s something about a saxophone. Even when I was a skinny youngster, and believe me, that was a LONG time ago, I wanted to play the saxophone. I thought it would be great to wear a black turtleneck, beret, and shades. Being a jazz saxophonist was a dream of mine. It never came true, but I still will go miles for a good sax player.
For Vanessa Collier, I would definitely cross state lines to hear her play.
Fortunately, it won’t come to that as Collier’s latest album, Heart On The Line, just landed on my desk and I can dive right in and listen to it.
While I would listen to Collier’s solo sax tracks, most of her audience would like a little more. She’s added a number of talented musicians to the album aside from her contributions of vocals, background vocals, Alto-Tenor-Soprano-Baritone saxophone, cowbell, and Resonator Guitar on one track. She’s joined by Nick Stevens on drums, percussion, and shuitar; C.C. Elis, Scot Sutherland, and Cornell Williams on bass; Laura Chavez on electric guitar; William Gorman on organ, piano, Wurlitzer, and clarinet; Quinn Carson on trombone; and Doug Woolverton on trumpet.
Collier starts off the album with one of the three songs she didn’t write. Super Bad is a slice of funky soul with the kind of groove that makes one think of bellbottoms and platform shoes. When she finally brings out the sax, it punches the song and if you weren’t up and moving before you certainly would be when she starts playing!
She follows up with a sweet ballad, What Makes You Beautiful. Traditional blues fans might not get into it, but Collier shows she has some sweet pop chops. Still soulful, a sort of throwback to the ‘70’s. This one is going on my late night playlist, the kind of song that is good to relax to.
The next song, Bloodhound, features Collier on the Resonator Guitar. And what a sweet sound it makes. Collier’s an artist with a saxophone but she’s not too shabby on the guitar as well. Of course, when you’ve got Laura Chavez playing lead guitar on your album, you are in good hands. This is a good delta number for the classic fans, and a lot of nice touches for those that prefer their blues on the more modern side. You’ll be hearing this one on Time For The Blues.
The next couple of songs are the remaining songs that were not written by Collier. The first one up is I[JP1] Don’t Want Anything To Change. It’s another sweet ballad that starts out with a touch of country vibe. Collier’s voice is beautiful and Gorman’s keys add a nice subtle touch to the song.
The last song on the album is a cover of Randy Newman’s Leave Your Hat On. Collier and Company bring the funk with pretty much everything they’ve got. It’s a lot of fun and they put a very distinctive stamp on the song. I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard another version quite like this. If Kool And The Gang ever decide to cover a Randy Newman song, this might be the result. But listen to Laura Chavez’ break, it smokes!
From here on out, Collier is the songwriter for every song. Starting with Take A Chance On Me, she gets that fat Chicago horn section playing. Chavez works her guitar overtime on this number and the rest of the instruments are sharp. It’s not a bad song, I’m not sure I’ll be playing the track, but it’s lively and fun.
Collier drops back into ballad mode for If Only. Her vocal tone is softer, less stressed, the kind of voice that used to dominate the pop airwaves. Gorman adds a little Gospel fervor with the organ in the backroom. Very nice number.
Next up is Weep And Moan, which starts out as a slow dirge. The musicians paint a vivid picture with their playing and Collier sharpens the edge in her voice. It sounds like a big band torch song to me, as each instrument is layered over one another. There is a lot of pain in Collier’s voice and it is matched almost note for note by Chavez’ guitar. Haunting.
Stevens’ drums lead us in to Who’s In Power?. This is an interesting song that gives you a little pause to think. We all wonder about just who is in power, how did they get there, and when can we get rid of them. This one is done in a beat that you can dance to and Collier gives her sax free reign on a nice jazzy riff. I like it even though it’s not strictly speaking a blues song. I think it’s cool and I really enjoy listening to artists expand their approach to music. It’ll be a margin call for each listener, but give it a chance.
The spellcheck on my computer had a fit when I typed in the title of this next song. Seems Freshly Squozen is not in its limited collection of words. Grammatical quibbles aside, this is a lighthearted song that looks at a little girl as she grows up. This one has a lot of life in it and I can see it playing well in front of an audience – that is, as soon as we can gather as an audience again. In the meantime, get squozen. Take that spellcheck!
Collier closes out the album with the title track, Heart On The Line. Her lyrics here are personal, but no morose and soul searching. The song is uplifting, with a melding of light country and Gospel arrangements and some double or triple tracking on the vocals. Collier’s sax break soars and Carson and Woolverton’s acrobatic turns on trombone and trumpet add mightily to the song.
Vanessa Collier is a mighty talent and I count myself lucky to have seen her on more than one occasion. We all hope and pray that we’ll be back to more live shows in the future, but for now we’ll have to be content with new works that are streaming out. I suggest you look for Heart On The Line at your favorite place to buy records, but if you don’t have one of those handy, be sure tocheck out her website here.