Vanessa Torres has named her third album Without Sight, and if that title weren't intentionally a polar opposite to her last effort, Witness, the music contained therein is evidence enough she's chosen a new direction. It's as though she's finally settled into her talent, choosing notes (and battles) more carefully and understanding effort put in doesn't necessarily have to correlate with energy expended.
A NEW VISION Vanessa Torres.
Especially in these days of big voices always belting everything out at top volume, to hear a first-class vocalist work on subtle inflection and dipping to just the right note is a real pleasure. The title track here has Torres diving low in the register and pulling notes through the soles of her shoes. Then she moves into "Paper Airplanes" and she floats light as air, jumping spryly from note to note, with a jazzy Latin chorus that's a great change of pace from a lot of the fingerstyle folk that's here.
Songs like the full-on rock "Follow" — a Bonnie Raitt kind of thing, bluesy with more aggressive vocals, a drum kit, and a ballsy banjo from Ra Criscitiello — and the country-shuffling "Die a Little" are vital to the album's success, showing Torres's versatility and keeping the emotionally charged whisper-quiet tunes like "Nameless" from running together.
Heck, "Cambia" ("Changes," written by Julio Numhauser, a Chilean '60s political-folk singer) is sung completely in Spanish, just another reason to sit up in your chair and pay extra attention. When the harmony vocals come in for the second verse, it's electric.
Producer Mai Bloomfield, who supplies plenty of moody cello and lovely backing vocals (along with Torres's sister Tamara), deserves plenty of credit here, too (check out her band, Raining Jane, when you've got a second). There's a ton of warmth here, but things never get too close or syrupy even when Torres gets pretty personal with her lyrics.
When Torres follows Nate Spencer's mandolin into "Antarctica," with "I know I have angels, gathered all around," she not only testifies to the quality of the support she gets on this record, but also shows off a legitimately terrific delivery. Add those two things together and you've got yourself a very enjoyable record.
WITHOUT SIGHT | Released by Vanessa Torres | at One Longfellow Square, in Portland | March 23 | vanessatorresmusic.com