(4 / 5)
I wrote the very first UK review of Vanessa’s 2017 album on Ruf Records, “Meeting My Shadow”. Not sure if this review is a UK first, but having given the previous one five out five stars, I was happy to receive this new one via Air Mail.
She’s often billed as “saxophonist” Vanessa Collier, but there’s more to her skill-set than that. Accomplished vocalist, songwriter, producer and horn arranger too.
From Maryland, USA, Texas-born, graduate of Boston’s illustrious Berklee College of Music, Vanessa recently won Horn Player of The Year in the 2020 Blues Music Awards, repeating that same achievement from 2019.
She spent 18 months in Grammy-winning blues star Joe Louis Walker’s band on international tours from 2012. Her own time in the spotlight came in 2014 with Vanessa’s debut solo album, “Heart Soul & Saxophone,” well received by fans and critics.
“Heart On The Line”, is Vanessa’s fourth solo album, after releases in 2014, 2017 and her last offering, 2018’s “Honey Up”, which spent nine weeks in the Top 15 Billboard charts.
The new record is self-produced, released on Phenix Fire Records (and that IS the correct spelling of Phenix as it is here!) and of the 11 cuts, there are eight original songs penned by Vanessa. There’s three covers given the Collier treatment.
James Brown’s “Super Bad” which opens proceedings, “I Don’t Want Anything To Change” by Elizabeth Wagner Rose, Maia Sharp and Stephanie Chapman (which Bonnie Raitt covered), and the timeless Randy Newman-penned global smash, “Leave Your Hat On”, which Tom Jones sang on the soundtrack to the hit British movie “The Full Monty”.
On this album, Vanessa sings lead vocals, background vocals and plays alto/tenor/soprano and baritone saxes, resonator guitar and…cowbell!
Nick Stevens on drums and percussion (wonder if she stole his cowbell?), CC Ellis/Scot Sutherland/Cornell Williams on bass, the totally wonderful Laura Chavez on electric guitar, William Gorman on keys, Quinn Carson on trombone and Doug Woolverton on trumpet.
Her voice is stronger than on her 2017 album I reviewed, and these songs are a better fit. More crafted too. All helped by experience, of course. But there’s innate passion and a devotion to serving the material, that is seeping out of these tracks. The horn arrangements by Vanessa possess no fat and are spot on.
Straight forward funky time on the opening cut, The James Brown cover. Horns sound cool. Then Vanessa offers up one of the best vocals of the set on her own song, the soulful ballad “What Makes You Beautiful”.
“Bloodhound” strips things back with acoustic slide guitar and a back-porch on the plantation field rootsy blues feel, which nods to Bonnie Raitt. Laura Chavez plays a blinder on the solo here.
Ms Raitt originally covered the next cut, “I Don’t want Anything To Change,” and like on track two of this collection, “What Makes You Beautiful”, Vanessa shows lovely vocal control. The sax on this track was not necessary and interrupts the flow and the tranquility, for me.
The groove is nailed on the cover of Randy Newman’s “Leave Your Hat On”, with a funky bass line and Laura’s soul drenched guitar chops and sizzling solo. Vanessa does a nice job on the vocal.
The ensemble weave a solid tapestry of groove on standout cut, Vanessa’s song “Who’s In Power?”, pumping bass line, drummer in the pocket and a sassy sax solo all sprinkle gold dust on a cool song.
A quartet of solo albums in seven years – she is also on the 2018 Ruf Records album “Blues Caravan 2017” – and Vanessa shows immense development as a singer and as a songwriter. Steadily establishing her own sound step by step, album by album.
It is pretty much a given that she knows her way around a saxophone by now! But as good as this album is, Vanessa is not one to blow her own trumpet…Oh, hang on a minute…..
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’