Vaneese Thomas – The Long Journey Home
12 songs – 56 minutes
After many years as a soul/R’n’B singer and songwriter, Vaneese Thomas continues her exploration of her blues roots on the magnificent The Long Journey Home. Her previous album, the critically-acclaimed Blues For My Father, was warmly reviewed in Blues Blast Magazine (24 August 2014) and earned two Blues Music Award Nominations. Thomas’s latest release finds her digging even deeper into the blues and with startling success.
The album opens with “Sweet Talk Me”, on which it is immediately apparent that Thomas has something different going on. The track kicks off with Al Orlo’s solo guitar, quickly joined by the piano of Paul Mariconda, before the entire band picks up the roots-infused rhythm. The song grows and develops through the first verse so that by the chorus there is slide guitar and a gospel voice backing floating beneath the vocals as the song evolves from what appeared to be a straight-forward blues-rock song to a jubilant combination of blues, R’n’B, soul and gospel. And this approach is at the heart of an album that becomes more impressive with each listen.
“Sat’day Night On The River” swings with irresistible groove and features a wildly raucous sax solo from Cliff Lyons. Soul and gospel influences feed into “Prince Of Fools” while “I Got A Man In TN” grinds with a gritty rock ‘n’ roll attitude. The acoustic “Revelation” is an upbeat foot-stomping country-blues declaration of love (“Like a lightning bolt out of the blue, I’ve got a love that’s true”). Mariconda’s piano excels on the lazy shuffle of “Lonely No More” while “Country Funk” successfully mixes a country-ish introduction featuring violin, banjo and dobro with a rock guitar riff-based verse and a funky chorus.
Thomas wrote or co-wrote 11 of the tracks on the album and, on each song, her powerful, impassioned vocals drive the emotional narrative with stellar support from her road band together with a number of guest artists.
The album has some serious disposition throughout, not least in the striking acoustic cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” (with beautiful violin from Katie Jacoby that manages to incorporate the famous riff of the original).
One of the more arresting songs is the poignant and topical minor key blues of “The More Things Change” on which Thomas celebrates the civil rights movement in the USA whilst noting that the struggle continues today. With apposite timing, she sings: “Politicians are yelling about what they’re gonna do. They’re talking about freedom but they’re not giving it to you. Sam Cooke tried to tell us that a change is gonna come. But I’m still here awaiting and hardly a damn thing has been done. Well, ain’t it funny, ain’t it a shame. The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
The Long Journey Home is essentially a love letter to the city of Memphis, Thomas’s home town, and what a love letter it is. Warmth and love exude from every track and, fittingly for a city that claims to be the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll and soul and home of the blues, the result contains large doses of each part of the rich musical heritage that is the Memphis sound.
With top-notch production (by Thomas and her husband, Wayne Warnecke), great songs and superb musicianship, The Long Journey Home is an absolute belter of an album.