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.