Fight the Good Fight
One of our best and criminally underrecognized powerhouse voices and songwriters, Vaneese Thomas, daughter of Soul Music icon Rufus Thomas, returns for her ninth album and her first for the growing Blue Heart Records, in partnership with her husband, multi-instrumentalist Wayne Warnecke’s Segue, where she recorded her three previous albums. This could well be Thomas’ tour-de-force songwriting effort as she penned or co-wrote all dozen songs. As the title implies, there’s an urgency to the album with a couple of socio-political themes amidst the usual mix of romance, spirituality, and love. While Thomas is labeled primarily as a soul-blues artist, she flavors this mix with Americana, country, and gospel with a star-studded guest lineup in Royal Studios in Memphis. There are 22 musicians and singers in the credits, some of whom play multiple instruments.
Notable names include guitarists Scott Sharrad (musical director for Gregg Allman), Al Oro, and Tash Neal; Memphis mainstay Bo Mitchell, vocalists Lisa Fischer and James D-Train Williams, and this generation’s Memphis horns of Marc Franklin (trumpet) and Kirk Smothers (saxophone). Additionally, two veterans from late night TV – bassist Will Lee (David Letterman) and drummer Shawn Pelton (SNL) joins.
The horn-infused opener, “Raise the Alarm,” has Thomas searingly delivering a rallying cry as she sees the growing and unabated wave of racism, stirred by the Trump presidency, wash over her people. “Same Blood, Same Bone” is her simmering gospel ballad ode to those who shaped soul music in her hometown. The tale of the wayward girl “Rosalee” is punctuated by Peter Calo’s banjo to give it a more downhome feel. “I’m Movin’ On” is sheer power, with Thomas at the piano singing with the utmost conviction, reflected also in Sharrad’s slicing slide guitar solo. Thomas returns to the piano for the stirring ballad “Time to Go Home,” displaying a stunning vocal range, buttressed by mandolin and accordion to both lighten and strengthen her impassioned delivery. As her last words fall, one better believe it is indeed time to go home.
The bluesy “When I’ve Had a Few” is a self-examining plea to find strength while the summons her raging anger for a former lover in Corrin Huddleson’s harp infused heavy handed blues in “Bad Man.” “Blue” is the inevitable tale of heartbreak that appears on most blues albums, again another testament to Thomas’ riveting, astute phrasing on ballads. The drama and chorale of vocals in “Till I See You Again” will remind of show music, reflecting Thomas’ many stints on Broadway itself. Even more voices, along with Huddleson again, back her on the ebullient “He’s a Winner.” The country elements appear in the title track with fiddle from Katie Jacoby and finger picking guitar from Paul Guzzone giving this a unique sound relative to anything else here as Thomas imparts her messages of stoicism, resilience, and hope. Not surprisingly, Thomas goes out in the pure piano driven gospel of “Lost In The Wilderness,” her voice wailing in all its beauty.
While the album is instrumentally and genre eclectic, it stays cohesive through Thomas’s healthy messages of hope, making this her strongest solo album to date.
- Jim Hynes