Vaneese Thomas – Fight the Good Fight
Blue Heart Records BHR 025
12 songs – 50 minutes
A six-time Blues Music Association nominee for soul-blues female artist of the year, Memphis powerhouse Vaneese Thomas outdoes herself on her latest disc, teaming with an all-star cast to deliver hope and positivity to folks dealing with the struggles and challenges of life in the modern world.
The ninth CD in her catalog and a welcome, long-awaited follow-up to her well-received 2019 effort, Down Yonder, which marked her return to her roots in a career that’s included work with everybody from Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson to Eric Clapton and Luciano Pavarotti.
A gifted songwriter, producer and actor, too, Vaneese is true Memphis royalty. The youngest daughter of Rufus Thomas and sister of both Carla, the reigning queen of the Bluff City music scene, and their well-respected, keyboard-playing brother Marvell, she penned all 12 tracks in this set, which delivers music from the crossroads of blues, soul, gospel and Americana.
Vaneese’s multi-instrumentalist life-partner, Wayne Warnecke, co-produced, mixed and mastered this one at Peaceful Waters Music in the New York City suburbs at the height of the coronavirus epidemic with additional tracks laid down at The Lab in Brooklyn as well as the legendary Royal Studios in Memphis and The Snug West Studio in Henderson, Nev.
The lineup includes former Gregg Allman bandleader Scott Sherrard, Al Orlo (Ben E. King) and Tash Neal on guitars, Vaneese, Wayne and Jon Colbert on keys, Corrin Huddleston on harmonica and The Memphis Horns, Marc Franklin (trumpet) and Kirk Smothers (baritone sax). They’re augmented by Joe Mennonna (accordion), Peter Calo (banjo), Katie Jacoby (violin), Justin Schipper (pedal steel) and Lannie McMillan (tenor sax).
The beats run deep with Warnecke laying down both bass and percussion throughout along with and Saturday Night Live’s Shawn Pelton drums, Bashiri Johnson percussion and bassists Will Lee of Letterman fame, Paul Adamy and Paul Guzzone, too. And James “D-Train” Williams, Lisa Fischer, Emily Bindiger and Kati Mac provide backing vocals.
The rock-steady call-to-arms, “I Raise the Alarm,” opens the action as Thomas enlists warriors to battle the injustice and darkness that’s overwhelmed every corner of America. Her stellar voice soars, filled with righteous rage against the troubles. The message continues in “Same Blood Same Bone,” which starts quietly but quickly evolves into an unhurried shuffle, an unstated complaint about racism that points out that we’re all of one heart, one language and much more.
Next up, Vaneese describes a wayward woman who refuses to listen to constructive criticism in the percussive, slide guitar-driven “Rosalee” before sitting down at the 88s and powering “I’m Movin’ On,” a soulful pleaser that announces her imminent departure because it’s obvious her man no longer wants her around. It dovetails into “Time to Go Home,” a ballad that suggests the proper path to take when hope is all gone.
“When I’ve Had a Few” eases out of the gate to follow. It finds Vaneese attempting to find strength within as she’s “sittin’ on a barstool feelin’ those lowdown blues and wishin’ I could be in someone else’s shoes.” The music brightens considerably with the harp-driven “Bad Man,” but the message remains dark because Thomas reads the riot to a former lover because he’s been nothing but “a pain inside my heart” before “Blue” adopts a Latin/semi-acoustic feel to describe more unspoken pain and misery.
Fear not though. Positive messages abound in the rich chart of “’Til I See You Again” reflect on past love and serve up confidence that it will renew itself once more down the road – something that comes to fruition in “He’s a Winner,” which builds from a quiet open as Vanessa describes her man as a winner. The music comes full circle to close as the country gospel-infused “Fight the Good Fight” restates the need for a call to action before the quiet ballad, “Lost in the Wilderness,” continues the message that, like all of us, Thomas is still in search of a way to fit in.
Forceful without being overly preachy, Vaneese Thomas delivers a steady diet of well-intentioned food for thought with this one. Dig in and chow down. It’s a tasty serving throughout – and strongly recommended.