She has issued several albums that showcase her singing and songwriting, and the latest is “Blues For My Father” (Seque Records). It had been five years since her last album “Soul Sisters Volume 1” (Segue Records), where she resurrected classic soul recordings from the likes of Bettye Swan, Tina Turner, Etta James and her sister Carla. This new recording, as indicated by the title, has her delving more into blues and she contributed ten originals as well as handles two covers, one of which is from her late father.
Produced by Thomas and her husband Wayne Warnecke, there is a variety of musicians appearing on this but the core is Buddy Williams on drums, Will Lee on bass, Robbie Kondor on piano and Tash Neal on guitars and Warnecke on percussion. There are appearances by (among others) Marvel Thomas and Paul Shaffer on organ, Ron Mathes and Jeff Mironov on guitars, horns led by Tim Ouimette and Perry Gartner and Shawn Pelton on drums.
What stands out on “Blues For My Father” is Thomas’ vocals. Rob Bowman, who penned the liner notes “Vaneese’s masterful control of phrasing, breath, intonation and timbre.” In other words she can flat out sing with a display of vocal dynamics as well as power to leave a strong impression on the listeners. She belts out about having the blues sitting at the station waiting for the train to bring her lover back on the opening “Southern Central Blues.” Then she gets sassy celebrating her man who plays no tricks and “10 X The Man You Are.“
The Memphis funk of “Wrong Turn” is a delightful duet with sister Carla (while Marvel adds organ) with some punchy horns in the backing and a crisp guitar solo from Jeff Mironov. “Wrap You Arms Around Me” has a bit of southern rock feel as Tash Neal is on dobro with Mironov again on guitar. Part of the melody here is evocative of the Ricky Allen recording “Cut You Loose,” although her lyric is telling her man to allow her to be strength for him and "wrap your arms around me and never let go.”
The centerpiece of this release is a duet with her father, “Can’t Ever Let You Go.” Like Natalie Cole did with her recordings with her deceased father, Vaneese adds her vocal to the original Rufus Thomas recording. Husband Warnecke pulled out Rufus’ vocal from the original analog masters, added some exhortations from other Thomas recordings, then provided a contemporary backing and guitar and sax solos along with Vaneese improvising around her father’s vocals.
Other highlights on this set include “Corner Of Heartache And Pain,” a straight, slow blues about the pain felt after her man left with. Paul Shaffer on organ. “Love’ Em And Leave’ Em Behind” is a soulful number where Vaneese tells a heartbreaker she has seen her friends in too much pain but he won’t do the same to her. “Southern Girl” is a celebration of her roots and the south with Kirk Whalum taking the sax solo. There is also a straight cover of John Fogerty’s “The Old Man Down The Road” before the disc closes with a wonderfully sung lament, “Blue Ridge Blues” backed simply by Rob Mathes’ guitars.
“Blues For My Father” is a showcase of Vaneese Thomas’ craft as a songwriter and her soul-shaking vocals and should have considerable appeal among blues and southern soul audiences.
This review was written in Fall 2014 and appeared in issue 361 of the Jazz and Blues Report (issue 357). She will be appearing at the Pennsylvania Blues Festival this coming weekend (July 26). Here she is performing live.