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October 2020

Vanessa Collier
Heart On The Line
Phenix Fire Records

Vanessa Collier

If you haven't yet hopped on-board the Vanessa Collier bandwagon, now's the time to do it. This young singer / songwriter / saxophonist is going to be a star. If not for the pandemic, perhaps she'd already be there. I saw her in concert just over a year ago, and I've witnessed very few relatively unknown artists come into a town for the first time and just blow away the audience like Ms. Collier did on that steamy July night in Phoenix.

The Philadelphia native expands her horizons on this latest CD, Heart On The Line (Phenix Fire Records). Her previous three releases primarily showcased Collier's soulful vocals and energetic sax work, but she really takes her music in a lot of different directions here, not to mention the fact that she also produced the disc. The backing band on Heart On The Line is solid, highlighted by the always stellar guitar work of Laura Chavez.

The album opens with a funky, soulful rendition of James Brown's classic, "Super Bad," with Collier adding the right amount of confident sass to the vocals. A soulful sax intro leads into the mid-tempo original, "What Makes You Beautiful," a pleasant number that serves as quite the contrast to the JB tune.

I said that Collier has really expanded the boundaries of her music on this album, with the beautiful, subdued "Bloodhound" presented as evidence. She puts down the sax, instead playing quiet acoustic resonator slide guitar to support her haunting vocals before the rest of the band comes in. Stunning. Equally effective is the slow, bluesy "I Don't Want Anything To Change." another example of how Collier's song selection has gone in many different directions. There's minimal instrumentation, with William Gorman's subtle accompaniment on organ and piano making this number a keeper. Collier finishes it off with a tasteful sax solo.

A version of Randy Newman's "Leave Your Hat On" is another gem among the 11 cuts, this rendition being funkier than the original, thanks especially to Chavez's wah-wah effects on guitar and Collier's commanding vocals. Her voice is just as forceful on the hard-driving blues original, "Take A Chance On Me," with a wall of sound being provided by Collier and guest horn players Quinn Carson and Doug Woolverton. Chavez contributes a monster guitar solo, too.

The slow, gospel-ish tune, "If Only," provides Collier with the opportunity to sing about all of the things in life that she doesn't have but if she did then she'd be happier. A great sax solo in the midst of the song provides that extra boost. Collier goes into full-blown torch singer mode on the dirge-like "Weep And Moan," showing ower and range in her voice on what is kind of a snaky blues. Chavez is featured again on guitar, while Woolverton's trumpet complements Collier's tenor sax.

The funky "Who's In Power?" is basically a showcase for Collier to display her immense talents on the sax, followed by the slow, jazzy soulful blues, "Freshly Squozen," talking about a mother dealing with her misbehaving child but still loving the little one.

Wrapping up this wonderful album is the horn-drive, funky title cut, with Collier announcing that she's going home and that she's not putting her heart on the line any longer. Woolverton is back with a nice trumpet solo and drummer Nick Stevens lays down a rhythmic, New Orleans-style beat. Driving the song along is the repeated line, "...feels good to help somebody ...," framed by rhythmic hand-clapping.

I've been waiting for one of the big blues labels to latch on to Vanessa Collier, but on the other hand I'm fine with what we are getting from this star in the making. Each of her four albums are outstanding, and you can't go wrong with any of them. My recommendation would be to pick up all of them. You can thank me later.

--- Bill Mitchell


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