Singer songwriter Nora Collins, the 2012 and 2013 WAMI (Wisconsin Area Music Industry) Rising Star Award winner and 2013 WAMI Female Vocalist of the Year Nominee, played her hometown “Only The Beginning,” CD release concert to the thousands of attendees at St. Dominic Days in Brookfield, WI, yesterday July 14. Nora Collins is having an excellent year. That’s not to say Nora hasn’t been having good years in the past, in 2011 Nora was the Wisconsin State Winner in the Texaco Country Showdown and in 2012 she was the Milwaukee Winner of the Texaco Country Showdown.
Nora has also been featured nationally on The Country Network, now called ZUUS Country, (Channel 24.2 in Milwaukee or 988 Time Warner Cable) for her original song “Dimples Filled With Lies,” from her second CD “Run Away With Me,” and was named their “Breaking Out Artist Of The Week” in 2012. For “Dimples,” recorded in Nashville, musicians that tour with Keith Urban, Lady Antebellum, Darius Rucker and Martina McBride backed the rising country music sensation. Regarding “Run Away With Me,” Nora informed me that she wrote all the songs herself when she was 15 to 16 years old and recorded the songs at 16.
Collins, who just turned 19 two months ago, is fresh off a ten concert gig at Summerfest in Milwaukee, just released a refreshingly brilliant CD titled, “Only The Beginning,” and has some noteworthy upcoming concert dates including an opening slot for Lee DeWyze on Wednesday July 24th at Shank Hall and is opening for Josh Turner Thursday July 25th at the Washington County Fair. Two days ago Collins performed for the thousands of patrons walking around Bastille Days. I had the pleasure of catching all ten of Nora’s Summerfest performances, so by the time I bought a copy of “Only The Beginning,” on the fourth day of Summerfest, having heard most all of the tracks played live multiple times, I felt I was getting familiar with Nora’s catalog as a performer.
Nora isn’t shy about her influences, most notably Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert, and in her voice and stage presence there are naturally hints of both, most remarkably Underwood’s tone and range and Lambert’s frisky delivery. That’s not to sell short Collin’s own distinct and stunning talent, after all it’s her very own song crafting and vocals, not to mention her unique live guitar tone, that set her apart from the crowd. Simply put, Nora Collins could be the future of country music. She is, for lack of a better phrase, the real deal.
“Only The Beginning,” is a strong statement about where Collins is right now as a musician. It showcases her vocals in a way that her previous disc did not. That’s not to slight anything about “Run Away With Me,” which is an excellent collection of songs in itself, but it simply doesn’t showcase Nora in the same musical perspective. “Run Away With Me,” is Collins backed by a full band, while, stripped down to the bare essentials, “Only The Beginning,” Nora explained to me, “Features vocals, guitar and fiddle.” Nora went on to say, “I’m very proud to say that there was no pitch correction or auto-tune put on my voice.” Guitarist Kenn Fox, fiddle player and backing vocalist Ruthie Krause and backing vocalist Andrew Edstrom support Nora’s lead vocals on “Only The Beginning.”
Collins went on to give me the break down about her new CD and offered a bit more information about her intentions with “Only The Beginning.” Nora told me, “The CD consists of 6 original songs; two I wrote by myself and four that I co-wrote. There are also four of my favorite cover tunes that I got licenses for. Since I perform solo, with this CD I wanted it to be more of a simple acoustic project. I wanted the listener to feel like they were sitting around a campfire listening to friends singing and playing their acoustic instruments. Also, I personally love acoustic albums because the emphasis is on the lyrics.”
I asked Nora to tell me about some of the highlights and memorable moments that she experienced during the writing and recording process. Collins told me, “I’m really proud of “Only the Beginning” because I organized all aspects of the project. It was a lot of hard work and left me with a great sense of accomplishment. This was the first time I’ve used co-writers and I enjoyed the experience to write with some great songwriters. My favorite part of the process was coming up with the song arrangements with Kenn. It was really cool to figure out how to make each song sound special.”
“Only The Beginning” opens up with “Harley,” a song penned entirely by Collins. It’s mature in it’s execution and an exceedingly catchy and well crafted tune. It’s radio ready and brightly imaginative in the narrative sense. The picture it paints as a song speaks of dangerous love, the thrill of the ride, and for Milwaukee, home of Harley Davidson, there’s also a bit of hometown pride thrown in for good measure. Nora’s superlative vocals and the rollicking guitar on “Harley,” provided by her Producer Kenn Fox, take the listener on a journey they won’t soon forget. The song is currently getting some local love being featured on FM 106 Sunday night Home Made Jams radio show.
“Harley” is a really great example of Nora’s songwriting ability, so I asked her about the day she wrote it, wondering if it was song that came easy or if was it a song that she had to wrestle with before it solidified into it’s final form. Nora told me, “I wrote “Harley” while I was driving home one day from my guitar lesson. I saw a speed limit sign that said 45 on it and then the rest of the song just poured out of me. I love to picture myself in situations and write about what I would feel like and be experiencing if it were really happening to me. A night ride in the country on a Harley sounds like a lot of fun – with a little bit of mystery and danger!”
“Help Me Make It Through The Night” is an exceptionally well played cover of the Kris Kristofferson tune, and it allows Nora to flaunt her vocal range. Nora does the song justice by giving the listener the proper range of emotions through a tightly nuanced interplay of her vocals and Fox’s guitar. It’s a song that is rich with evocative moments, and Collins makes the most of them.
“Nothing To Do With Me” is a co-written song by Nora and Kevan Kirk. It’s a tune that finds Nora singing about heartbreak and her inflection is perfect for the overall tone of the song. Most importantly, the song is believable and relatable. It’s also a perfect candidate to be a single off the album because it’s one of the strongest songs in terms of songwriting and performance. At a recent performance in Hartland Nora told the crowd the song was about, “Broken promises.”
“Fastest Girl In Town” is exactly what you would expect it to be at face value, a very fun and frisky cover of the Miranda Lambert hit single. As you might expect, Nora really belts this one out and it’s an excellent showcase of her ability to really get gutsy with her vocals. Kenn Fox does some outstanding guitar work on the track.
“Only The Beginning” is co-written by Collins and Willy Porter and seems to mark a coming of age musically for Nora. Lyrically, there’s a symbolic shedding of the past but also a steadfast and earnest attitude about the future. It’s a deeply honest song that is emotionally charged with all the hope and promise and desire that we carry inside with us on our journey through the human condition.
I asked Nora if she would tell me about writing with Willy Porter and how “Only The Beginning” became the title track to her CD. Nora responded, “Writing with Willy Porter was a treat for me. I learned so much from him about songwriting in that one writing session and really appreciate him taking the time out of his busy schedule to write with me. Willy is such a nice person and has also helped me to learn more about the music business. When I began recording this project, I had no idea what to title it. During a studio session, Kenn , the producer and guitarist of this project, suggested that “Only The Beginning” would be a great title. I thought it was perfect because I’m just starting my musical journey and my walk through life.”
“First Heartbreak” and “Wings Of My Own” are songs co-written by Nora and Janey Street. Both are coming of age songs that deal with issues relatable to virtually everyone. “First Heartbreak” is a delicate song that reflects on the trials of young love and the wide range of emotions that come with the bitter sting of a broken heart. It’s a song that I’m positive will resonate most successfully with Nora’s female fan base, and takes an approach to the subject with more of a Carrie Underwood style than that of Taylor Swift. The song is more powerful than I originally anticipated, to say the least. “Wings Of My Own” is a song about growing up and finding your own way and your own inner strength. It’s an empowering song, symbolic in it’s nature. It’s a song that gives Collins the space to show appreciation to her family and how they’ve helped her become the person she is today.
“Holding Out For A Hero” was an unexpected cover song, sung most famously by Bonnie Tyler back in 1984. The reworked acoustic version presented here by Collins is bold and fresh. Nora takes the tempo down a notch and reworks the phrasing, which really allows the listener to hear the song in an entirely new light.
“I’ll Pray For You” is another stand out track on “Only The Beginning,” and was written entirely by Nora. The song is full of musical subtleties and feisty, spirited lyrics. It’s a revenge song with a twist that finds Collins singing about a “lying, cheating son of a gun.” Collins lyrically concedes to wash her hands of the matter ultimately deciding, “I’ll let Karma do my dirty work.” The song is available for a free download, a link will be provided in the last paragraph of this article.
“Over The Rainbow” is a special song on the disc. It was recorded in one take with Nora on guitar and is a tribute to her Grandma. Nora told me, “I wanted to end the CD with this special song for her. The lyrics talk about a special place – all her troubles go away.” There’s really not much more that I can add here, except that Nora’s vocals and guitar are exquisitely sublime.
The bottom line is that “Only The Beginning” is one of the best independent recordings that I’ve heard come out of Wisconsin in a long time, country music or otherwise. Having spent some significant time judging for myself the trajectory of Nora’s career, seeing her work crowd after crowd, winning over the hearts and minds of strangers one by one, and listening with a critical ear to her recordings, I am all but certain that big, big things are in her future. Hopefully we can one day say, “I knew her when…” If you live in the Milwaukee metro area do yourself a favor and catch Nora at one of her many upcoming shows, you will not be disappointed, and most definitely pick up a copy of her CD “Only The Beginning” and support Wisconsin’s rising star.
The Sunday July 14 concert Nora performed at Dominic Days Festival in Brookfield, WI had the sort of “sitting around a campfire” vibe that Collins spoke of previously, despite the sunshine falling upon us outside the main tent. The concert was a vibrant display of Collins performing confidently to an inviting crowd. Collins onstage is unique, charming and wildly positive. At the core of the matter one thing is for certain, Collins is gutsy, passionate and deadly serious about her career. Her hard work ethic is evident in her busy schedule of up to 200 performances a year, a steady number over the last 3 years for Nora.
Collins opened up her hometown CD release show with Miranda Lambert’s “White Liar,” and quickly moved into her own catalog. Over the course of two sets over two hours, Collins offered sun ripened renditions off “Only The Beginning” to an appreciative crowd of thousands of festival goers at St. Dominic Days. Collins booming vocals and playful guitar carried well beyond the main tent she played, and was the soundtrack to anyone on the rides, as well as festival goers playing games and buying food or beverages. Smiles seemed to be contagious as people filled up the tent to hear Nora play what I would consider was her best live show that I’ve seen yet.
Nora was strong vocally and gave Brookfield heartfelt performances of original material straight from her Martin guitar like, “Harley,” “Nothing To Do With Me,” “I’ll Pray For You” and the title track “Only The Beginning,” among other well known sing-along covers such as Carrie Underwood’s “Blown Away” and “Fishin’ In The Dark” by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. I couldn’t help but wonder to myself what Nora would sound like covering Tanya Tucker’s “Blood Red And Going Down,” Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” or Jewel’s recently reworked version of June Carter Cash’s song “Ring Of Fire,” that was made famous by Johnny. Of course I’m more curious what’s next for Nora Collins. I’m in real anticipation of the next batch of new songs Nora will have to offer.
“Only The Beginning,” is only going to be made available at Nora’s shows or through US mail, get your copy now. For the mailing address and more information and her performance schedule check out www.NoraCollins.com. For those who want to sample Nora’s music there is a free download through ReverbNation. The track is a full band version of “I’ll Pray For You” that can be downloaded after you sign up for Nora’s mailing list. Nora is in the process of making a music video for the full band version of “I’ll Pray For You,” be sure to check back for the finished video. For info/booking contact: firstname.lastname@example.org You can find Nora on Facebook, be sure to hit like at her page to get all her updates. You can also find Nora on Twitter. For more information about John Schulze Photography please visit the official Facebook Page and the official website.