Vanessa Collier – Live at Power Station
Phenix Records – 2022
10 tracks; 69 minutes
In the liner notes of her fifth release, Vanessa Collier stated that she has wanted to make a live album since 2017 because people kept telling her that while her recordings are excellent, they don’t compare to the experience of witnessing her perform live. She also wanted to highlight how some of the songs from her earlier releases have evolved over time. Live at Power Station, (which begins with the easily recognizable voice of Chris “Bad News” Barnes introducing Collier), captures the magic of her live performances, and the energy and passion can be felt throughout the tracks. While she also plays resonator guitar on the album, her saxophone solos are particularly impressive and always tasteful, and her vocal quality is also excellent.
This release contains seven original songs and three covers. Not surprisingly, (since she was a first-place winner in the International Songwriting Contest), her lyrics are poetic with powerful imagery. For example, in “When it Don’t Come Easy,” she notes “there’s a hooked nose man hidin’ in the craters of the moon. He’s been aimin’ his spotlight at all my faults. I try to slip in between the slats of the light. But I’m having’ no luck at all…I’ve been sandin’ down my splintered heart.” A crowd favorite, “Sweatin’ like a Pig, Singin’ like an Angel” brings strong visual images to mind of church attendees fanning themselves in the humidity of the South. And the initial track begins with her lamenting why someone “no longer loves me like you used to.” However, by the end of the song, she has turned the tables, singing “I’m givin’ up your troublesome mystery. I’ll be gone before you miss me. ‘Cause lovin’ you is like throwin’ tears on a fire and I only end up burned…I don’t love you like I used to”.
Collier also selected some choice covers, and the album includes wonderful versions of Ann Peebles’ “I Can’t Stand the Rain” and Bono’s “When Love Comes to Town”. The decision to include “Love Me Like a Man” initially seemed like it might be a relative weakness of the album, (since that song is known to be covered by nearly every female artist participating in a jam session). But one of the wisest moves made by Collier has been to collaborate with the extremely talented Laura Chavez, and Chavez’ guitar solo on “Love Me Like a Man” is so beautifully emotive that it, (along with Collier’s subsequent sax solo), makes that song seem new again. Other supporting musicians are equally as strong, with Byron Cage on drums, Andrew Crane on bass and William Gorman on Keyboards. They all then demonstrate their funkier side with a James Brown-influenced original entitled “Tongue Tied”, and the album ends with Collier’s tribute to her mother, “Two Parts Sugar, One Part Lime”.
Collier wrote that she hoped to uplift and inspire others with Live at Power Station, and it seems that she has likely been successful in meeting that goal.