Willa Vincitore is the pride of the Hudson Valley region of New York, an area as steeped in the traditions of American music as much as any region. After all, it boasts Woodstock, Levon Helm’s Barn, and countless great musicians in roots, blues, and jazz. Even though Willa is relatively new to the recording business, having issued her debut in 2017, she has been performing for almost two decades now. Her debut album, Better Days, introduced the world to a gifted blues singer who got her start with The Chris O’Leary Band and has been performing on her own since 2013. Her album featured all original material, somewhat daring for a debut. Yet, half the singles charted, and she was met with great acclaim. She is a newly minted NY State Blues Hall of Fame inductee (August 2018).
So, what’s her encore like? She’s proven that she can write songs and sing with the best of them, with her range, emotive quality and tons of power. We should probably start by setting your expectations. Firstly, this is not completely a blues album. In addition to blues, Vincitore touches on ‘70s and ‘80s pop, R&B, some gospel and Americana too. Secondly, she opts for one cover this time out, choosing Annie Lennox’s “Money Can’t Buy It.” Thirdly, and fortunately as well, many of the same musicians are back. Finally, if you missed her first time around, you can be assured that you’ll hear her amazing voice, challenged here a bit more by the breadth of the material.
She calls her rotating group of musicians Willa ad Company, here featuring co-producers Lee Falco (drums, vocals) and Brandon Morrison (bass, vocals, engineering and mixing). She is joined by regulars Karl Allweier (guitar), Doug Abramson (bass on all but one tune), and Scott Milici (keys, vocals). Additional contributions from Manuel Quintana (percussion on three selections) Art Labriola (digital strings on “It Is What It Is,” and Chris Vitarello from the Bruce Katz Band on rhythm guitar for “These Days” with former Gregg Allman Band saxophonist Jay Collins as well.
“Just Ain’t the Same” is a funky opener, allowing Willa to wail away, exhorted by Allweier’s searing guitar and her background vocalists. The title track is a mid-tempo number, in which Willa displays her emotive range and adept phrasing. The sound builds to several crescendos as her voice soars over the harmonies in the choruses. “Need a Little Help” returns to funky blues. “Trust” is slow, simmering R&B where Willa reveals her sultry side.
“I Love You Baby” is straight ahead pop while “Everything Hurts” is a tongue-in-cheek brisk tune set against a vaudeville piano and vintage guitar, reminiscent somewhat of Maria Muldaur’s style. “Bite Me’ is understandably an angry tune with a contemporary rock and funk backdrop. She sings “I just don’t care,” with in-your-face venom. “It Is What It Is” is a piano ballad, perhaps her strongest vocal for its sheer emotion and gutty pain. “These Days” is a syncopated blues tune enriched with Vitarello’s guitar pushing Allweier and Jay Collins’ deeply soulful sax solo.
It’s not every female vocalist who would have the courage to cover Annie Lennox, but Willa proves she’s got comparable pipes and then some. What a joy listening to this lady sing!
- Jim Hynes