Anjani Thomas,
(self-produced, 2000)

Anjani Thomas has performed in a soul band, gone on the road as part of a Hawaiian review, played nightclubs, studied jazz at the renowned Berklee School of Music, taken part in recording sessions in New York City and accompanied Leonard Cohen on record and on tour, among other things. Anjani in many ways reflects all these experiences, incorporating elements of each genre without being derivative. Thomas has style and individuality, approaching her music with freshness and insight.

She succeeds partly because of her performance and partly because of her songwriting talents (she wrote or co-wrote all 12 songs).

Her expressive voice can be pure and gentle, it can be sultry and smoky and it can soar. Using English, Hawaiian and Okinawan, she sings of the hardships of life, friendship, devotion and separation; she is at home in everything from a jazz setting to a traditional Hawaiian slack key piece.

As an instrumentalist, she has a skillful approach on piano, keyboards, guitar and percussion, always finding the right sound and arrangement to enhance her material. Providing sympathetic accompaniment are guitarist Frank Gambale, bassists Stan Sargeant and Jimmy Earl, Carlos Murguia on keyboards, and Johnny Friday and Kevin Ricard on percussion.

Special mention must go to two particular tracks, "The Spirit of Love" and "Kanaloa," which demonstrate her versatility, if nothing else. The first is the only non-acoustic piece on the album, featuring the synthesizer work of Osamu Kitajima. The latter is a duet with Henry Kapono Ka'aihue featuring Ozzie Kotani on slack key guitar. These are wonderful songs that demonstrate not only her versatility but also her wide ranging talent. (To truly understand the meaning and importance of "Kanaloa," it is worth following the Protect Kaho'olawe 'Ohana link on her website. A portion of the proceeds from the album sales will go to this worthy cause.)

As a songwriter, she has the power and attraction of writers like Tom Waits and Townes Van Zandt. She draws you into other worlds, making you feel the joys and pains of life. Yet although she adopts different personae in the lyrics, nothing appears insincere or contrived in her writing. She recounts stories with the spontaneity of a conversation: "It's getting cold out here/a nickel just won't get me home/brother, I ain't gonna disappear/Till I get shelter for my soul" (from "Shelter for My Soul") and "I can't get used to dinner for one/at our table for two" (from "Over You").

This is an emotional journey giving pertinent and poignant insights into the soul of ordinary people and their everyday lives. Everyone has a story, something Anjani Thomas understands. Anjani reveals the innermost thoughts and feelings of people and sets them in a sympathetic surrounding -- a moving album that also entertains.

- Rambles
written by Jamie O'Brien
published 21 February 2004

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