Rhonda Thomas: Listen

Rhonvocals Productions/HNL Records

After years spent backing icon Isaac Hayes, Georgia peach Rhonda Thomas finally stepped before the floodlights, making a critical splash with her exquisitely performed, though slightly uneven, smooth jazz debut, Breathe New Life. Listen considerably advances Thomas' catalog in craft, lyric and vocal execution. The single "Best Intentions" finds a class act performer delivering on a memorable song that's an easy urban AC hit. Thomas' smoky, skilled styling and musical range are given more elbow room with the project's genre-hopping playlist - from the hard bop of "Do What You Say" to the gospel of "Unmerited Favor." Lyrical buttercream ices Thomas' originally penned cuts, such as the heartfelt "Peppermint Leaves" and socially conscious "Darfur Woman." Only uninspired arrangements and hit-or-miss production mar such songs as the diluted that Weather Girls' classic "Just Us." Still, her fine Hayes' homage, "Do Your Thing," says exactly what we want from Thomas. (4 out of 5 stars)