Vanessa Collier, “Meeting My Shadow” (Ruf)

reviews-vanessacollierVanessa Collier is a quadruple threat. A Maryland-based singer, songwriter, arranger and multi-instrumentalist, she’s released a soul, blues and gospel–touched second album, Meeting My Shadow, via Germany’s Ruf Records.

A follow-up to Collier’s 2014 album debut, Heart Soul & Saxophone, the new album effectively showcases her extensive talent. A graduate of the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Collier is a gifted composer, adept in several roots-music styles. She’s also an engaging saxophonist who favors the alto. Her playing for Meeting My Shadow further includes soprano and tenor sax, flute and six more instruments.

Collier casts her original song, “Meet Me Where I’m At,” as a swinging hybrid of New Orleans jazz and rhythm-and-blues. The track features simultaneous horn solos, spirited percussion and a first-verse mention of Frenchmen Street. She visits the juke joint for “Two Parts Sugar, One Part Lime,” a blues-rocking story about enduring the never-ending school of hard knocks.

Collier is a tough vocalist on “Poisoned the Well,” a funky contemporary blues number. She finds an upbeat, classic soul groove for “Dig a Little Deeper.”

In the simmering blues of “When It Don’t Come Easy,” Collier’s singing recalls one of the great ladies of American roots music, Bonnie Raitt. One of Collier’s original compositions, “When It Don’t Come Easy” would fit any Raitt album. The same goes for the soul ballad “You’re Gonna Make Me Cry.”

Of the non-original songs on Meeting My Shadow, Collier’s take on U2’s collaboration with B.B. King, “When Love Comes to Town,” seems commercially calculated. But another song from a classic source, Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Up Above My Head, I Hear Music in the Air,” is a joyful addition to the album and more evidence of Collier’s versatility.

“Devil’s on the Downslide” is a gospel song of her own creation. The ballad, featuring Charles Hodges’ churchy organ, showcases the lovely voice Collier has for the quieter styles of blues, gospel and soul. Here, as elsewhere in the album, her vocal resemblance to Raitt is clear.