Rhonda Thomas - Listen (2010)

Rhonda Thomas
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An artist who has an expansive definition of spirituality often has some explaining to do. Rhonda Thomas appears to realize this, and the song "Unmerited Favor" can be seen as her response to those traditionalists who seek to censure any artists standing on both sides of the sacred secular divide. "Unmerited Favor," which can be found on Thomas's new CD Listen, begins with the observation, "People sometimes ask me/do I have a problem with the music that I sing/cuz they know that I believe you are King." Thomas notes in the song that she still believes that her music is a ministry.

An artist who has an expansive definition of spirituality often has some explaining to do. Rhonda Thomas appears to realize this, and the song "Unmerited Favor" can be seen as her response to those traditionalists who seek to censure any artists standing on both sides of the sacred secular divide. "Unmerited Favor," which can be found on Thomas's new CD Listen, begins with the observation, "People sometimes ask me/do I have a problem with the music that I sing/cuz they know that I believe you are King." Thomas notes in the song that she still believes that her music is a ministry.

It clear that Thomas wants to uplift her listeners as well as entertain them.  And she does a lot of both on Listen. In that vein, even her cover of Isaac Hayes' hot buttered, funky soul classic "Do Your Thing" takes on a meaning that is different in some respects than what Hayes (with whom she performed as a backing vocalist for many years) meant when he sang this song in the let-it-all-hang-out 1970s. One thing is certain, however: Thomas' version, which mashes up elements of jazz, gospel and soul, is a worthy tribute to Hayes' original. 

"Do Your Thing" is the best song on the album, but the Weather Girls cover, "Just Us" is nearly as good, as are several Thomas originals. "The Light" is a bit of inspirational funk in which Thomas encourages young women to resist the media influences that often make girls dislike their bodies. This is the kind of song that Thomas can point to when she asserts that her music is a ministry even if it is not always overtly religious.

"Best Intentions," with its unaccompanied violins playing during the song's introduction and changes in tempo, is the album's most challenging song. Thomas' vocals prove to be up for the challenge as she hangs with her sidemen through all those changes in pace. Thomas tells a story of woman who gets involved with an indecisive man on the ballad "I Would Rather," while the anthem "Darfur Woman" addresses the plight of women facing far more serious challenges in that war-torn part of Africa.

Whether Thomas is singing about the crisis in Darfur , encouraging young girls to love themselves or providing a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of the ‘hookup' culture, she wants to leave her listeners with something more than a bouncy melody and a catchy hook.  As Thomas sings in "Unmerited Favor," "I don't feel we give credit to your name if all we seek in life is personal gain." Thomas knows she left a little money on the table by making a record like Listen and not pandering to current trends. If it's any consolation, she achieved her goal of ministering, uplifting and entertaining her listeners. Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 

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