Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Vaneese Thomas is the daughter of Rufus Thomas, who you must have heard of from his long and distinguished career as an R’n’B musician and entertainer. The music business certainly rubbed off on the family as her brother is the noted keyboard player Marvell and her sister, Carla a successful singer. Regardless of the lineage, Vaneese has proved her talents as a singer, songwriter and actress having worked with such luminaries as Pavarotti, Stevie Wonder and Eric Clapton amongst many others. Additionally, she has appeared on cinema soundtracks and TV and still found time to help found a couple of Gospel choirs whilst steadily releasing solo albums that reflected her soul, R’n’B and blues heritage. She now has a new release available called Down Yonder, as she brings that sometimes silken, sometimes muted but always entrancing voice to bear on this album.
Opening with Ebony Man, straightaway we hear the soul leanings that embellish the whole album. Here however it has a swampy edge from the picked guitar and dobro slide that makes it a real favourite of mine already. The Turner-esque vocals do actually fit with this tale of hardship for the sharecropper of the title. Horns join the fray on I Tried, as Memphis soul is the primary driver although the guitar phrasing in the backing means that it is lifted above the usual soul sound that I admit I am not that keen on…in saying that, Vaneese certainly shows how powerful and expressive a vocalist she is with the passion and commitment dripping in every line. Highway of regret is next with a country hint or two but, again has guitar and keys lifting it above the norm and then a bonus arrives with some neat violin and the whole becomes a very clever piece of slow R’n’B. Back to Memphis for driving, horn-laden Wake Me…the 007 via Batman bass line is brilliant and the R’n’B via soul riffing keep it interesting as the vocals show her remarkable range and the rock guitar and Hammond solos fit so well, even if they perhaps shouldn’t…although they are way too short. Second Chance has sister Carla on backing vocals and they do make a great sound together as the solid soul base is warmed by some lovely Hammond. Mama He Loves Me is probably the bluesiest song on the album as the guitars lay down a slow gentler version of the Mistreated phrasing…DC she isn’t but this is still a great song with a clever construct and the horns add to the colour along with the piano. Unsurprisingly, I wish the short picked solo was extended considerably.
Next up, Lies changes the pace and brings funk into the mix but the blues guitar is the highlight for me and the solo could have gone on for another few minutes with the horns backing it perfectly as Vaneese again demonstrates her range and feel. Handle Me Gently has another blues guitar intro before the soul vocals join in with the customary passion. It may be just over six minutes long, but it flies past as we get superb piano and organ along with the guitar and vocals. Legacy Of Pain is next and has a surprise in store as Vaneese sings with the pain the lyrics tell the story of murders that remain unpunished and is joined in a tasteful duet with none other than Kevin Bacon and he does a damn good job too. We also get a bonus tasty guitar solo that is blues-rock but still fits. Memphis soul is back with Last Kiss as it follows the traditional patterns…the least immediate for me, but still has depth. Gone is a real highlight as the blues and gospel meld with a lovely result…even if the chorus will sound familiar. The guitar is again subtle, effective and makes the song that much more powerful. Gospel stays with us as the album closes with the title track but the piano is the lead this time, although the slide guitar does a neat pedal impression too.
While there is more soul than my usual tastes would seek out, this is still an exceptional album with original tracks that entertain without fail…I may not seek it out that often but it will remain a constant on the old iPod. Vaneese is a talented and captivating singer and also is a formidable songwriter so, if you like a lot soul in your blues, then you will love this.
(The traditional iTunes run on track when I didn’t press stop soon enough meant I was treated to the wonderful Vanilla Fudge and their rendering of Ticket To Ride…the best version I have heard….maybe The Beatles should have had a Hammond in their lineup!)
EIGHTdoodle paws out of TEN …
- Ebony Man
- I Tried
- Highway Of Regret
- Wake Me
- Second Chance
- Mama He Loves Me
- Handle Me Gently
- Legacy of Pain (Feat Kevin Bacon)
- Last Kiss
- Down Yonder
Vaneese Thaomas: vocals
Shawn Pelton: drums
Will Lee: bass
Al Orlo: guitar
Robbie Kondor: keyboards
Tash Neal: dobro
Katie Jacoby: violin
Rev. Charles Hodges: Hammond B3
The Bo-Keys horn section: Mark Franklin, Kirk Smothers
Carla Thomas: vocals
Berneta Miles: vocals
Kevin Bacon: vocals
Recorded atPeaceful Waters Studios, New York and Royal Studios, Memphis
Co-produced byWayne Warnecke and Lawrence Boo Mitchell