Saxophonist Jay Collins was a West Coast jazzman before he became an East Coast soul singer. Now, with The Songbird and the Pigeon, Collins echoes his employer Gregg Allman and his father-in-law Levon Helm while forging his own voice. He’s not there yet, but he’s getting close. He’ll need to pay royalties to Bob Dylan for ripping off “Gotta Serve Somebody” with “If You Don’t Stand for Something,” and he might even owe Tom Waits a few pennies for “My Dreams Came Back,” but elsewhere he sounds confidently like Jay Collins.
His Kings County Band provides consistently strong backing—supple here, fiery there—and it’s clear that Collins understands the structure of music deeply. There’s a funky Bobby Womack snap, for example, to “The Money Hole”; a huge strut behind “All My Tears”; and a taut, jittery groove on “Financial Consultation.” But lyrically, the latter is yesterday’s news, both in its poetry-slam leanings and its dated economic breakdown. Elsewhere, as on “Shotgun Past,” Collins gets mired in blues tropes but then upends them, burning up his memories by using “your black panties for a torch.” When he connects, as on the gorgeous “Sounds Like Home” and the slippery title track, Collins actually grabs the grandeur of The Band without aping it. And when he finally unleashes some of his bittersweet sax on the album-closing affirmation, “Waltz for a Boy,” it’s a revelation. Songbird is the sound of a musician in flight, and he’s on his way to a good place. www.jaycollinsband.com.