12 songs – 56 minutes
Some families just get more than their fair share of musical talent. Vaneese Thomas is the daughter of the legendary Rufus Thomas. Her older siblings are the “Memphis Queen”, Carla Thomas, and the noted keyboard player, Marvell Thomas. Thomas herself has worked with a wide array of artists as a singer, songwriter, producer, and actor. She has sung with Luciano Pavarotti, Sting, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Celine Dion and Eric Clapton, amongst many others.
Geffen Records released Thomas’ first major recording in 1987, which included the top ten R&B B hit “Let’s Talk it Over.” Blues For My Father is her fifth solo release, and features a superb mix of modern blues and R&B.
The album opens with “Southern Central Blues” a mid-paced, loping blues shuffle with fine guitar and piano contributions from Tash Neal and Robbie Kondor respectively that perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the album. The track ebbs and flows but never lets up in intensity, while Thomas’ voice is an absolute gem. Capable of going from a whisper to a gale, it always carries with it an emotional maturity that adds depth and commitment to each song.
“Southern Central Blues” is followed by the Stax-like R&B of “10 X The Man You Are”. The chorus contains the classic putdown: “He’s one, two, three, all that’s good to me. He’s four, five, six, a man who don’t play no tricks. He’s seven, eight, nine, more than I thought I’d find. He’s 10 x the man you are….”
Thomas is backed by a surprising number of top drawer musicians on Blues For My Father, including Buddy Williams, Shawn Pelton, Joe Bonadio and Perry Gartner (on drums); the bassists Will Lee, Paul Adamy, Steve Spear, Ray Sanders and Ernest Poccia; Robbie Kondor (organ, harmonica) and Jon Cobert (piano); Tash Neal, Jeff Mironov, Al Orlo, Donnie Baer, Bruce McDaniel, Wayne Warnecke, Nick Moroch and Rob Mathes (guitar); Marvell Thomas, Paul Schaffer, Ricky Peterson, Shelton Becton and Darryl Clayton (organ); Bill Harris, Jim Spake and Kirk Whalum (saxophone); Tim Ouimette and Kenneth Jackson (trumpet); Berneta Miles, Carla Thomas, Marvell Thomas, Angela Clemmons, Alan Gorrie, Sharon Bryant and Dennis Collins (background vocals). Despite this disparate multitude of talent, however, the album retains a high level of consistency in both sound and style.
Blues For My Father features 10 original tracks written by Thomas and two covers. One of the covers is her father’s “Can’t Ever Let You Go” on which, due to the wonders of modern technology, Thomas is able to duet with her late dad. However, what could have come across as schmaltzy actually sounds believable and substantial. It also features a superb guitar solo from Donnie Baer. Keeping the family connection alive, Thomas also duets with her sister, Carla, on the R&B ‘Wrong Turn’.
The second cover is John Fogerty’s 1985 MTV hit, ‘Old Man Down the Road’, which is re-imagined in a swampier, bluesier style, with slide guitar and electric piano. It’s a great choice of cover and Thomas and her band carry it off superbly.
Some songs feature a full band with horns. By contrast, the final track, “Blue Ridge Blues”, has Thomas accompanied only by guitarist Rob Mathes. His acoustic slide guitar is masterful and meshes beautifully with Thomas’ powerfully tender voice as she sings: “’Please come back’ still echoes, echoes through these hills. Baby, come back. Haven’t I paid my dues? I’m sorry, oh my darling, that I was untrue, can’t you come back and take away these blues.”
Blues For My Father is dedicated to the late Rufus Thomas and he would no doubt be proud of his daughter’s efforts. This is a seriously good album, with great blues and R&B songs, fine playing and superb singing. Well worth checking out.