The long spanning, successful career of Vaneese Thomas is no surprise given her background—the daughter of legendary R&B musician and entertainer Rufus Thomas and the sister of “Memphis Queen” Carla Thomas and keyboardist Marvell Thomas, Vaneese has certainly carried on her family’s musical legacy. In her own style, Vaneese has captured the rich heritage of Memphis soul and R&B while infusing it with gospel, blues, and jazz influences from her lived experiences. In her latest project, Down Yonder, Thomas returns to her southern roots for a soul-stirring album that is at times both heart wrenching and joyous.
Joining Thomas on Down Yonder is a star-studded lineup of musicians including Saturday Night Live drummer Shawn Pelton, former Dave Letterman Show bassist Will Lee, guitarist Al Orlo, and keyboardist Robbie Kondor. The tracks on the album range from sultry (“I Tried”) to jubilant (“Second Chance”) and brooding (“Handle Me Gently”). Each song highlights the skill of the musicians, but the real standout is Vaneese’s songwriting and vocal dexterity.
Thomas returns to her roots with the title track, “Down Yonder,” which fittingly tells the tale of a vagabond being drawn back to her home. The album as a whole is filled with tragic heartache, joyous celebration, and every emotion in between, all impeccably conveyed by the vocals of Thomas and the musical accompaniment of her friends and collaborators.
Reviewed by Chloe McCormick