When your surname can be translated from Italian as “winner”, it must give some kind of psychological boost to achieving your aims…well it is true of this particular winner. I am referring to Willa Vincitore, although I don’t actually know if this New York State resident is of Italian extraction, it just seems fitting to my way of thinking. That sense of winning certainly percolates through this singer/songwriters latest release called Choices. It is her second release and follows the acclaimed Better Days from 2017…not that it is her first musical foray, she spent the early part of her stage career backing Chris O’Leary (Levon Helm’s Barnburners and The Chris O’Leary Band) as an original member of his band, but she’s been performing on her own as Willa And Company since 2013.
This second helping shows influences ranging through ‘70s and ‘80s pop, rock and R’n’B, taking in Americana, blues and some gospel too. The pop angle being reinforced as Willa puts her spin on an Annie Lennox song…more of which, later.
It starts with Just Ain’t The Same and a tantalizing, simple riff with clever highlights from a wah wah that is so subtle and yet makes the riff way better. The vocals are going to get the inevitable Tina comparisons, but there is more to Willa’s intonation than that…she is expressive and uses a complex range all in the one song. Then we get a guitar solo that puts rock into the soulful blues of the main parts of the melodies. Title track, Choices, brings another subtle guitar intro that carries a barred melody behind the sweet vocals. The rest of the band joins in and it becomes a little poppy with a streak of soul mixed in; imagine 10CC with soul. Need A Little Help paints some rock and funk into the picture as we get a Hammond intro and then the typical chord phrasing of funk, although the background bass and drums keep it rocky. Willa again manages to use an extended range throughout…this means we don’t get the usual “listen how loud/high I can go” as she puts in a great performance. The guitar solo is wah’d and paced carefully if, you guessed, too short for me. Trust is a slower paced slice of funky soul and the hi-hat/snare interplay is a joy. Restrained vocals and laid-back chord play make this rather smooth and bit like some of the recent soulful Ana Popovic stuff. The guitar solo uses a lovely tone and distinct notes to expand and embellish the melody. I Love You Baby changes tack with a sparse but clever guitar and keys phrase before it turns into a well-structured soul/pop amalgam that leaves me wanting a bit more weight even the brief solo is great.
The sub two-minute Everything Hurts is a piano led romp that has humour and could have been written for me…except that I have entered middle age and passed out the other side! Nevertheless, with the piano and neat acoustic guitar this bluesy, jazzy song is great fun. Bite Me starts with a biting snare and then funky guitar before perfectly pitched vocals with more humour ratchet the song to a rapid level and an electric piano solo, followed by a guitar solo brings gravitas to a song that could have been a bit too ‘casual’. It Is What It Is blows that feeling away as the slow piano introduces Willa at her very best. Key produced strings add even more pathos and the subtlety of the other instruments increase the power and the guitar solo lifts the emotions still higher. Penultimate song, These Days, addresses the terrors of this modern world with piano and guitar wrapping around each other and a well-judged sax solo, make for a lovely blues song. The performance of each member on this one is such that it quickly became my favourite. Final track is that Annie Lennox cover I mentioned…now I know Annie has the voice of an angel but I have never taken to any of her work and I admit I haven’t heard her original (and didn’t on purpose) so I came to this in my normal state of ignorance. Willa’s take on it employs the lovely tone of the funky wah’d guitar but, ultimately, it is a pop song that is admirably sung and played but not my kind of song…sorry.
In summary then, what we get is a strong entry into the blues/soul genre with a truly emotive singer and a cracking band behind her. The songwriting is of a high standard too and, although I will skip the cover, it is an album I will return to time and again…it is a winner.
EIGHTdoodle paws out of TEN …
- Just Ain’t The Same
- Need A Little Help
- I Love You Baby
- Everything Hurts
- Bite Me
- It Is What It Is
- These Days
- Money Can’t Buy It
All songs written byWilla Vincitore except Money Can’t Buy It, by Annie Lennox.
Willa Vincitore: vocals
Doug Abramson: Bass
Karl Allweier: Guitar
Jay Collins: Saxophone on “These Days”
Lee Falco: Drums, vocals
Art Labriola: Digital strings
Scott Milici: Keyboards, vocals
Brandon Morrison: Bass on “These Days,” vocals
Manuel Quintana: Congas/percussion
Chris Vitarello: Rhythm guitar on “These Days”
Produced byLee Falco and Brandon Morrison.