Her set this night can cause a music lover to break down the problem with most popular music. The performance has bearing, and her songs have character. In a music setting long on personality and short on anything real underneath it, Chris Collier distinguishes herself by just being. And thankfully, the moderate but lusty crowd recognizes it. I can't tell who has or hasn't seen Collier live before tonight. I do know that it sounded as if the entire room was singing along with her last number, "Galaxie 500."
"Galaxie 500," a plaintive story of a woman seeing the worlds inside and outside herself, and the two songs that preceded it tonight are beautiful, declarative and deliberate. Chris Collier has a singing voice that sounds like Janis Joplin's speaking voice, without the Port Arthur, Texas, drawl.
Like her music, it is no-nonsense and full of presence. Collier's three-song set goes a long way in front of her peers in the audience. There is no compartmentalization at the York St. Café tonight -- here she's one of the area's best singer/songwriters, not one of the area's best female singer/songwriters. Remember, "Galaxie 500" ended-up on 1999's 97Xposure CD as well as WNKU's Exit 89 compilation CD.
Her sing-along will expand this autumn, when she, Ryan Adcock, Greg Mahan and Ashley Peacock all hit the road for the first Four Corners of Folk Tour. Each performer will take turns headlining with a solo-acoustic set on this two-week tour of coffeehouses, restaurants and small venues, organized by Adcock. Collier, herself a veteran of independent mini-tours, has three albums worth of material (1992's There For Dreamin', '95's Further and '98's Song Gallery) to showcase. When asked about the tour during our telephone interview, Collier uses the word fun a lot in her responses. She still laughs a little at the thought of being asked to tour with Adcock, Mahan and Peacock, an older woman out with three younger men.
"Maybe they need a mother for the trip," she offers.
Collier has part of this correct: This will be one mother of a trip. No one is bringing bands, which means that she leaves her Full Band (guitarist Steve Sigsbee, bassist Ron Blankenship, drummer Kevin Eagan and soundman Mark Jacobs) here in Cincinnati. What will replace electric backing are the collaborations and sitting-ins with each other, a given when any combination of Collier, Adcock, Mahan and Peacock share a bill. I ask Collier to select a song from each of her tourmates that she wouldn't mind playing.
"Wow ... wow. That's a tough one," Collier thinks aloud before answering. "Ryan has that song, 'Drive To Hallelujah.' Greg has 'American Farming Song.' That's fun. Ashley I'm just now becoming familiar with. I like 'No Parking,' but I don't know if I could do it." (Yes, Chris, you could. All three of them.)
Collier, in her 40s, draws from a pre-1965 Newport Folk Festival era of American Folk music for inspiration, an era lost on many contemporary artists.
"I listened to a lot of Peter, Paul and Mary," she says. "I love the way they could move a crowd. It was them that got me into songwriters like Bob Dylan (whose 'Blowin' In The Wind' was a hit for the influential trio). The lyrics are meaningful. I'm an old-fashioned girl."
Collier has also consumed much Roberta Joan Anderson, the singer/songwriter/innovator from Canada known the world over as Joni Mitchell.
"I think she's one of the biggest geniuses we have, as far as what's going on in music," she says.
There is also an essence of West Indies' singer/songwriter/guitarist Joan Armatrading in what Collier does. According to Collier, these Folk influences might have expanded her audience by two in recent months: Malcolm and Noreen Adcock, Ryan's proud parents.
"I think his folks are bigger fans of mine than Ryan is," she confesses with a sweet laugh
CHRIS COLLIER and her Full Band perform Friday at the York Street Café with guests Diamond Blue. For more information, check www.chriscollier.com.