For her 14th album, singer Roseanna Vitro, now 67, travels back to her southern roots: the blues, country, soul, gospel, jazz, and rock that shaped her musical upbringing in Hot Springs, Ark. But Tell Me the Truth is far more than a trip down memory lane, as Vitro leverages this 11-track heterogeneity to define her beliefs about America, past and present. Throughout, Vitro is supported by what she’s dubbed her Southern Roots Band, featuring long-time collaborators Mark Soskin (keyboards) and Dean Johnson (bass), plus drummer Rudy Royston, guitarist Mitch Stein, saxophonist Tim Ries, and trumpeter Nathan Eklund.
To open, Vitro and company wade knee-deep into the blues for “On Your Way Down,” Allen Toussaint’s powerful indictment of vainglory and intolerance. They explore heartache (“Walkin’ After Midnight,” a balladic “When Will I Be Loved”), personal freedom (John Fogerty’s “Fortunate Son”), and individual empowerment (Boz Scaggs’ “I’ll Be Long Gone” and the Staple Singers’ “Respect Yourself,” featuring vocalist Al Chestnut). Addressing the current sociopolitical climate, there’s Andy Razaf and Fats Waller’s truth-avoiding “Foolin’ Myself,” Mose Allison’s brilliantly biting “Your Mind Is on Vacation,” and Jon Hendricks’ title track, pleading to escape “drowning in a sea of jive.” In the end there’s renewal, with bluesman Eli Yamin’s “A Healing Song,” and hope: the gospel classic “I’ll Fly Away,” its uplifting creed beautifully enhanced by violinist Sara Caswell and guest vocalists Kate McGarry and Cindy Scott.