|Soulsville scion Vaneese Thomas returns to her southern roots for an album of impeccably produced songs of tender mercy, tragic heartache, and joyous celebration. She once again gathered together a group of good friends and collaborators to record the basic tracks of “Down Yonder” at Peaceful Waters Studios in New York with her longtime partner Wayne Warnecke. Thomas recruited the late show rhythm section of “Saturday Night Live” drummer Shawn Pelton and former “Dave Letterman Show” bassist Will Lee to deliver the steady grooves, along with guitarist Al Orlo and Robbie Kondor on keys. She then returned to her hometown and called upon the talents of Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell and Reverend Charles Hodges, to put some Memphis grease on the tracks along with trumpeter Marc Franklin, co-founder of The Bo-Keys, arranging and recording the horn section that included band mate Kirk Smothers on baritone saxophone at the world-famous Royal Studios. Thomas’ big sister the “Memphis Queen” Carla Thomas lent her acclaimed voice to several tracks and special guest Kevin Bacon joined her for an inspiring duet.
The swampy opening track ‘Ebony Man,’ co-written by Thomas along with Lisa Fischer (former BKG vocalist with The Rolling Stones & Luther Vandross) and Carolyn Mitchell, is the biography of a sharecropper highlighted by tasty Dobro from Tash Neal. The horn section makes their entrance on the sultry torch song ‘I Tried,’ with Thomas stepping into the role of a troubled woman akin to a character in a Tennessee Williams’ drama. The smooth R&B groove of ‘Highway Of Regret’ hides the deep blues in the introspective lyrics accented by doleful violin from Katie Jacoby. Thomas then plays the woman scorned on the driving horn infused grinder ‘Wake Me.’ Hammond B3 master Reverend Charles Hodges joins her on the sermon of redemption, optimism and hope ‘Second Chance,’ while her sister and Berneta Miles, sing in the choir. She pleads for advice on the desperate blues ‘Mama He Loves Me,’ then ramps up her power on the funky rebuke ‘Lies.’ The depth of her sensitivity and breadth of her emotions are showcased on the tender yet brooding ballad ‘Handle Me Gently.’
Kevin Bacon sings “if we bring it into the light, time for justice, truth and right,” with Thomas on ‘Legacy Of Pain,’ a song written about murders that took place in Mississippi that yet remain unprosecuted. The sentimental slow burning ‘Last Kiss’ is a piece of pure Memphis Soul and the foot stomping ‘Gone’ is a tent revival altar call. Thomas closes the set with the autobiographical title track, a gospel fueled confessional of a vagabond, who is drawn back to the power of her town home “Down Yonder.”
The song writing and vocal skills of Vaneese Thomas remain at the center and focus of these 12 original tracks on her eighth album, “Down Yonder,” a masterwork that demonstrates a rare talent that is at ease on both Broadway and Beale Street.
Rick J Bowen
Born in Memphis Tennessee, Vaneese is the daughter of Rufus Thomas, whose legendary career as a musician and entertainer began in Vaudeville and spanned more than half a century in R&B recording and radio. Her older siblings are the hit recording artist “Memphis Queen” Carla Thomas and the highly respected keyboardist Marvell Thomas. Embracing this remarkable musical legacy, Vaneese carries forward the rich heritage of Memphis soul and R&B; music that has touched several generations and crossed many divides. At the same time, she has combined all the influences of her background and experience – R&B, gospel, blues, and jazz – to cultivate a soul-stirring style that’s all her own.
Highly regarded within the music industry, Vaneese’s talents as a singer, songwriter, producer, and actor have made her a sought-after solo performer as well as a first-call vocalist for projects by other top-name artists. She has worked with the renowned recording producer Phil Ramone and has sung with an astonishing array of internationally known performers including Luciano Pavarotti, Sting, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Celine Dion, Eric Clapton, and numerous others.
Vaneese’s vocal career has taken her to concerts and festivals around the world. She has sung with the Baltimore and Colorado Symphonies in “Too Hot to Handel” under the baton of Marin Alsop and at:
- Several Pavarotti & Friends concerts in Modena, Italy,
- The Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland,
- The Michael Jackson & Friends concerts with Luther Vandross in Seoul, Korea, and Munich, Germany,
- And soul music festivals in Porretta, Narni, and Perugia, Italy.
Geffen Records released Vaneese’s first major recording in 1987. The self-titled album included the Top Ten R & B hit “Let’s Talk it Over.” In 1999 Vaneese used her own Peaceful Waters Music label to release “When My Back’s Against The Wall,” a gospel crossover hailed by Billboard Magazine as “a small label masterpiece that begs for attention from savvy majors.” Following a few years later was “A Woman’s Love” (2004), which combined R & B and silky, smooth-jazz vocals and in 2009 Vaneese released “Soul Sister Vol. One,” a collection of seminal soul classics. The CD, and the live show Vaneese has created from it, both pay tribute to some of the original soul sisters and honor the historical value of this irrepressible music.
In addition to concerts and recordings, Vaneese has worked extensively in film and television. She was the voice of Grace the Bass on the PBS series “Shining Time Station” and Clio the Muse, Goddess of History, in Disney’s “Hercules.” She has sung on numerous film soundtracks including “Anastasia,” “Mighty Aphrodite” and “The First Wives Club.” TV appearances include “The Late Show with David Letterman,” “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” and “NBC’s Today.” Vaneese has also produced recordings, created vocal arrangements, and written songs for Patti Austin, Freddie Jackson, Bob James, Larry Coryell, Melba Moore, and Diana Ross, who scored a Top Ten hit in the United Kingdom with Vaneese’s “One Shining Moment.” She helped found the Swarthmore College Gospel Choir and continues to direct the Alumni Gospel Choir.
Vaneese is a four-time Blues Music Award nominee for Soul Blues Female Artist and “Blues For My Father” garnered two BMA nominations for Best Soul Blues Album & Best New Artist Debut.