Blues and soul fans will ll be delighted by this new album by Vaneese Thomas, the youngest daughter of Rufus Thomas. On the twelve originals, she is backed by guitarist Al Orlo, keyboardist Robbie Kondor, bassist Will Lee, and drummer Shawn Pelton. Also collaborating with her are Lawrence Boo Mitchell and Reverend Charles Hodges along with trumpeter Marc Franklin and baritone saxophonist Kirk Strothers from The BoKeys. Older sister Carla Thomas added backing vocals, and Kevin Bacon sings a duet with Vaneese.
This recording certainly gets off to an impressive start with the swampy Tony Joe White feel of the opening “Ebony Man.” Singing with a delivery that has a hint of Tina Turner, she forcefully spins the tale of a sharecropper with whining slide guitar and a hard groove. The mood switches to the Memphis soul feel of the pleading “I Tried” with the Memphis Horns section and the organ of Hodges. Then there is the country-soul flavored “Highway of Regret,” with a reflective vocal and Katie Jacoby’s moody violin. It is followed by the Memphis grinder “Wake Me,” with the horns blasting away as she sings about waking her from the nightmare, and pain she feels. Carla is one of the backing singers on the song of hope “Second Chance,” about folks needing “a second chance when it comes to love and romance… .”
Another standout selection is the funky blues-tinged ”Lies” when she tries to get to the truth of the matter as her lover keeps lying. There is some marvelous blues guitar, and the horn section is brassy and punchy. “Handle Me Gently” is a wonderfully sung soul-blues ballad about needing some tender loving to help her recover from being hurt so many times. “Legacy of Pain” is a poignant duet with Bacon about murders in Mississippi that remain unprosecuted with a plea bring justice to the crimes. After the slow-burning soul of “Last Kiss,” there is “Gone,” where guitarist Orlo evokes Pops Staples on a gospel-rooted performance in the manner of the Staples. The album closes with more gospel flavor on the title track as Vaneese sings about being a vagabond who keeps getting drawn back to the city on the Riverbank.
Vaneese Thomas continues to impress listeners with the latest album. This recording mixes strong original songs, focused backing musicians with superb soulful singing. It provides more evidence of how marvelous a singer, not merely a soul-blues singer, Vaneese Thomas is.
I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is Vaneese (from 2015) performing a Syl Johnson-AL Green classic.