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Simply Grand

Irma Thomas

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Album Review

After a lifetime in the business, the Soul Queen of New Orleans finally won a Best Contemporary Blues Grammy in 2006 for After the Rain. As everyone knows, there's a lot more to Thomas than the blues. She's a powerful R&B belter, simmering soul singer, and all round entertainer as comfortable with a standard like "Stormy Weather" as she is with a new tune like Dr. John's "Be You." True to its punny title, Simply Grand features Thomas in the company of 13 piano players laying down accompaniment on the acoustic grand. The tunes are old and new, borrowed and blue, but Thomas makes them all her own. The most powerful tracks here showcase Thomas and a solo pianist, bringing the feel of a smoky late-night bar on the end of lonely street to life. "Be You" features Dr. John, who played piano on the very first Thomas recording session, 1959's "You Can Have My Husband (But Don't Mess with My Man)." Rebennack's piano on "Be You" is dramatic and funky, halfway between a Mardi Gras romp and a Sunday morning sermon. Written by Rebennack and Doc Pomus, it's a simple, soulful love song with a playful vocal by Thomas . On the Louis Jordan standard "If I Had Any Sense I'd Go Back Home" Mac and Thomas get down and dirty, with Thomas delivering a casual vocal that plays around with the beat, while Rebennack backs her with clusters of rippling arpeggios. "Somebody Told You," a sassy Allen Toussaint R&B number Thomas recorded back in 1962, gets a reprise (in the same key as the original) with John Medeski rolling out some stomping New Orleans fonk on his solo while Thomas testifies with her usual soulful intensity. Marcia Ball chose the Leon Russell tune "Same Old Blues" for the session and gives it a gospel twist that lets Thomas flex her moaning lower resister. Randy Newman supplies keys and his own "Think It's Going to Rain Today" to close the album. Thomas makes a bleak lyric even more forlorn with an understated sighing vocal that's downright heartbreaking. But the album also has it's sassy, uptempo moments. John Fogerty's "River Is Waiting" also has a celebratory churchy ambience with great backing vocals, Henry Butler's sanctified piano, and Thomas' testifying lifting the tune to heaven. "Early in the Morning," another Louis Jordan tune, a tongue in cheek tale of a woman looking for solace after being up all night, gets a humorous read from Thomas and pianist Tom McDermott. "Underground Stream" is a pop tune from pianist David Egan that combines R&B and gospel with a classic '40s pop feel. The chorus is instantly memorable, and if there was any justice in the world it'd be the monster hit Thomas deserves. ~ j. poet, Rovi

Biography

Born: 18 February 1941 in Ponchatoula, LA

Genre: R&B/Soul

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

The unrivaled Soul Queen of New Orleans — a title officially bestowed by local officials, no less — Irma Thomas ranks among Crescent City R&B's greatest and most enduring musical ambassadors, never enjoying the coast-to-coast commercial success of contemporaries like Aretha Franklin and Etta James but nevertheless breathing the same rarified air in the minds of many soul music aficionados. Born Irma Lee in Ponchatoula, LA, on February 18, 1941, as a teen she sang with a Baptist church...
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Simply Grand, Irma Thomas
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