Vanessa Collier – Heart On The Line
Phoenix Fire Records – 2020
11 tracks; 45 minutes
Since graduating from Berklee College Of Music in 2013 Vanessa Collier has wasted no time in establishing herself in the music world, touring with Joe Louis Walker and the Ruf Blues Caravan 2017, producing four solo albums and winning the BMA award for Horn Player of the Year in both 2019 and 2020. On her latest album Vanessa provides all the vocal and saxophone parts (alto is her prime instrument but she adds tenor, baritone and soprano as required); supporting her in the horn section are former Roomful Of Blues trumpeter Doug Woolverton and trombonist Quinn Carson. Laura Chavez is the guitarist, William Gorman plays keys and Nick Stevens drums; bass duties are split between CC Ellis (7 tracks), Scot Sutherland (three) and Cornell Williams (one). Vanessa offers us eight original tunes alongside three quite disparate covers.
Vanessa’s music has always included a degree of funk and where better to start than with James Brown whose “Superbad” is given a smooth and funky workout with the horns prominent and Vanessa taking an exuberant alto solo. “What Makes You Beautiful” fits its title in a gorgeous arrangement with great vocal harmonies over Laura’s gentle chords and another fine horn arrangement. Vanessa shows us a different dimension to her music on “Bloodhound” as she straps on a resonator guitar to deliver a stripped-back acoustic piece that takes us down to the Delta both musically and lyrically, Laura stepping up to deliver a stirring electric solo. Next up is the quiet ballad “I Don’t Want Anything To Change”, written by Liz Rose, Maia Sharp and Stephanie Chapman and sung by Bonnie Raitt on her Souls Alike album. Vanessa sings it very well and adds a haunting sax solo before the final cover, a strong version of Randy Newman’s “Leave Your Hat On” which returns us to the funky side of things as Vanessa sounds like she is thoroughly enjoying herself on this familiar anthem.
The rest of the album is entirely original, starting with “Take A Chance On Me”, in which Vanessa asks us not to judge her by her small stature as she has lots to offer: “get on board, you might be surprised; take a chance on me”. Laura’s guitar work matches the blues-rock style of this one before we move into more of a soulful feel on “If Only”, a song that talks about how many of us are never satisfied with what we have, even when we have a lot of pluses in our lives. “Weep And Moan” is a slow blues with an excellent vocal performance and, again, one needs to point out how good the harmonies are. On the longest cut on the album there is room for a well poised guitar solo and for Vanessa to play a fine solo over the full horn section on the outro – impressive stuff! “Who’s In Power?” features Doug’s trumpet on a return to the funkier side of things while the amusingly titled “Freshly Squozen” is Vanessa’s play-on-words blending squeezed and frozen. The album closes with the title track “Heart On The Line” which has a New Orleans feel with all three horn players in terrific form as Vanessa takes some time out at home to “kick my shoes off, hold a glass of red wine, stop putting my heart on the line”. It makes a good finale and may well be the best track of all on an album that is solid throughout.
Those who are already familiar with Vanessa Collier can expect an album that shows continued growth as both writer and performer; anyone who has not yet picked up on this charming young lady should give this album a close listen.