Blues Bytes


July 2014

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Vaneese Thomas
Blues For My Father
Segue Records

Vanesse Thomas

Vaneese Thomas is the daughter of the Memphis music legend Rufus Thomas, and is the younger sister of singer Carla Thomas, who charted several hits for Stax Records in the ’60s, and keyboardist Marvell Thomas, who backed numerous Stax artists during that same period. The younger Thomas also appeared on several Stax recordings, singing back-up vocals on several her father and sister’s recordings, but she eventually relocated to New York City and worked as a session vocalist, backing such musical luminaries as Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton, Michael Jackson, Luther Vandross, Celine Dion, Sting, and Stevie Wonder, and as a producer/arranger/songwriter for Patti Ausin, Freddie Jackson, Melba Moore, and Diana Ross.

Thomas has also released several recordings of her own since the late ’80s, mixing R&B, gospel, and jazz. In 2009, she released Soul Sister Volume 1, which paid tribute to some of soul genre’s most prominent female vocalists. She’s also spent time at CCNY teaching music history studies encompassing soul, gospel, and the blues. Thomas’ latest release, Blues For My Father (Segue Records), is a direct result of her recent work as a singer and teacher. The new disc offers a dozen tracks, ten originals written or co-written by Thomas, and two interesting covers.

Thomas’ originals cover a wide range from the country blues of the opening cut, “Southern Central Blues,” to the funky R&B of “Wrap Your Arms Around Me” “When My Baby Gets Home,” and “Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em Behind,” to the deep southern soul of “Southern Girl” and “Wrong Turn,” where she duets with sister Carla, to the blues sounds of “10 X the Man You Are” “Corner of Heartache of Pain,” and “Lonely Me.” Regardless of genre, she sounds fantastic.

The covers are well-chosen and surprising. Her version of John Fogerty’s “The Old Man Down The Road” actually has more of a gritty, swampy feel than the original. The other cover will raise goosebumps and possibly a lump in your throat as Thomas sings with her late dad on his 1962 Stax release, “Can’t Ever Let You Go.” Inspired by the Natalie Cole/Nat King Cole duets, Thomas was able to use an analog recording of her father’s performance of the song with her vocals and it blends seamlessly. It’s reminiscent of the old Rufus and Carla Thomas duets from the ’60s.

Loaded with powerful performances and great original tunes, Blues For My Father should be required listening for all fans of Memphis soul and blues. Hopefully, Vaneese Thomas will continue this musical journey on future releases.

--- Graham Clarke
Read Graham's blog

I’m the first to admit I wasn’t familiar with the discography of one Vaneese Thomas until her new disc, Blues For My Father, showed up on my doorstep. I was fortunate enough to meet her father, Rufus Thomas, at one of the last W.C. Handy Awards shows he hosted with Ruth Brown and Dr. John before he left us. And while her older siblings, Carla and Marvell, are probably better known to most of us, make no mistake about it --- Vaneese is a formidable artist in her own right and I love the soulful vibe of her newest disc on Segue Records. Let’s see what the youngest Thomas has to offer us.

We start out with the slowly burning textures found in “Southern Central Blues,” and here Vaneese is waiting patiently for her man at the train station. “I got the blues…haven’t you heard…sitting here waiting with the Southern Central blues.” It’s not readily apparent why he left but it is crystal clear that Vaneese loves her man and can’t wait for his return. Robbie Kondor is twinkling the ivories of his piano on this tune and there’s a soothing quality that his keyboard work adds to the mix.

Tash Neal’s guitar leads us on to our next tune, “10 X The Man You Are,” and Vaneese is lauding the qualities of the new man in her life over the one she’s left on the curb. There’s no doubt about it, Vaneese is much happier now. “He’s 1..2..3…all that’s good to me…well, he’s 4..5..6…a man who don’t play no tricks…he’s 7..8…9…more than I thought I’d find…he’s 10 X’s the man you are.” Big brother Marvell is on the B3 and big sister Carla joins her for a duet as Vaneese proceeds to tell us about her “Wrong Turn.” “I think I made a wrong turn, baby…when I left you…I knew I was a fool…forgetting…everything we’ve been through.” Vaneese at least realizes the error of her ways and time will tell if she’s able to overcome the damage its caused in her life.

Up next is “Wrap Your Arms Around Me,” and Vaneese is appreciating the love of a good man in her life. “Wrap your arms around me, baby…tell me this is for sure, not maybe…squeeze me tight…and never let go.” Vaneese feels safe and secure in his arms and this is a relationship you hope for her sake lasts. We segue into “Corner of Heartache and Pain,” and of course this is the other end of what a successful relationship should look like. “I’ve been living baby…at the corner of Heartache and Pain…since you left me, baby…everyday feels the same.” Her friends tried to warn her but Vaneese succumbed to the charms of this man who broke her heart anyway.

Through the magic of technology, Rufus joins his daughter for a duet on a tune he wrote, “Can’t Ever Let You Go.” “Darling, tell me so…oh, darling, sweet darling…please tell me so…I’ll never…never, never let you go.” It’s a beautiful collaboration and I’m appreciative of the effort Vaneese went to include her father’s voice on her disc.

Tash adds a bit of a dobro to the mix as the band moves on to “When My Baby Gets Home,” and here we find that Vaneese has had enough. “Cheated once…cheated twice…but that’s all over now…starting tonight…my bags are packed…in my ebony Benz…I’ll be long gone…when my baby gets home.” Vaneese is a proud woman and she’s not looking back, she’s looking forward to a better man and a better life.

Horns enter the mix and are a nice touch as Vanessa is happy to tell us, you “Love’ Em and Leave’ Em Behind.” She’s seen too many people in her life be mistreated and she’s not having any of it for herself. “Well, I know your reputation…for messing around…I’ve seen all the girls…you’ve been putting down…if you think I’ll be one of your fools…nothing is further from the truth…you love em and leave 'em behind…but this time, the joke’s on you.” Don’t hate the player…hate the game and this time Vaneese is better at it than he is. “Southern Girl” finds Vaneese telling us about her roots having grown up in the Mid-South. “Cornbread is my favorite food…and I love to stand…where my Daddy stood…I’m a Southern girl…that’s what I am.” Kirk Whalum is blowing a mean sax solo on this tune and it’s very clear that Vaneese is indeed, a Southern girl.

“Lonely Me” is up next and it’s Darryl Clayton on the organ this time as Vaneese ponders her fate. “Walked away…made me cry…oh…why, why…broken dreams and future schemes…no more…love has passed me by…it’s too much to bear.” He was a scheming man that Vaneese is probably better off without, but in the moment she’s still missing his presence in her life. The band tackles a classic John Fogerty tune, “The Old Man Down the Road,” next and it’s definitely a more sophisticated version of this CCR classic. Will Lee’s bass and Buddy Williams are driving the train on this one and Vaneese’s soulful vocals are up to the task.

Vaneese decides to strip it down to just Rob Mathes on guitar as she sings our final cut, the passionately beautiful “Blue Ridge Blues.” “All I dream of…you lying next to me…every hour is a chain round my heart…please, come back still echoes through these hills…baby, come back….oh, haven’t I paid my dues…forgiveness is what I long for…can’t you see your way through…can’t you come back and take away…these blues.” Vaneese has an amazing voice and this tune is a perfect way to bring an outstanding record to its conclusion.

Blues For My Father is definitely the most soulful release I’ve heard from a female artist all year and I’m grateful for the introduction to the amazing talents of the youngest of the Thomas clan. Vaneese has more than done her father proud, and this is a disc that I’m confident will garner its share of recognition when the time comes for that to happen. I’m highly confident this disc from Vaneese will find its way into my top 10 list at the end of the year and deservedly so. I strongly recommend you grab a copy of this disc from Vaneese on her website, and check out her older releases as well. I know that a number of them will soon find their way into my CD collection for sure.

--- Kyle Deibler



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