Monday, December 09, 2013

Irma Thomas' Rounder Heritage Retrospective

Irma Thomas' career was elevated from being a regional New Orleans treasure to an artist that received national and international recognition when she signed to Rounder Records. In 2000, Rounder celebrated its 30th Anniversary with the Rounder Heritage Series. One of the releases was devoted to her recordings for the label. This review originally appeared in the July/August 2001 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 252), although i have made minor changes. There are more recent compilations of Irma's work, including one that spans her half century career. This release is available as a download.

The Soul Queen of New Orleans, Irma Thomas has had a substantial and rewarding career since she signed with Rounder in the mid-1980s. A recent addition to the Rounder Heritage series celebrating the label’s 30th anniversary is If You Want It Come and Get It, a collection of 16 performances collected from six of the eight albums she has recorded for Rounder, including the collaboration with Marcia Ball and Tracey Nelson, Sing It! No tracks are included from her live album and also there are no tracks from her gospel album. 

What stands out is the consistency and high level of her vocals. She is a warm singer who can belt it, but raises the roof mostly to accent the lyrics. Producer Scott Billington has constantly sought out choice new material along with finding lesser known gems, and she can tear into a soul ballad like Love of My Man as well as a rocking The New Rules, dealing with the new male-female relationships. 

A wonderful singer she adds her own voice to songs associated with others, even with her straight reading of the Bobby Bland classic, Yield Not to Temptation, from the Sing It! album. Love Don’t Change is a previously unissued track from the sessions for that album. The rendition of the title track is an extended performance of the track from her Handy-Award winning album My Heart’s in Memphis. The later tune was co-written by Dan Penn, one of several songwriters who have brought material to producer Scott Billington over the years. The late Doc Pomus and Mac Rebennack (Dr. John) contributed I Never Fool Nobody But Me, with a nice New Orleans R&B piano backing from David Torkanowsky. 

Add some of the finest Crescent City and Memphis musicians such as drummer Herman Ernest, organist Sammy Berfect, bassist George Porter, guitarists Michael Toles, and Renard Poché and saxophonists Foots Samuel and Red Tyler, and it is not surprising that Ms Thomas has produced some extremely fine recordings for Rounder which are well sampled here.

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