Irma Thomas is one of the great R&B and soul singers of New Orleans; her last album, After the Rain, was a powerful tribute to the victims of Hurricane Katrina thanks to the strength of her vocals and the straightforward, uncluttered backing. She continues in the same style here, mostly backed only by piano. Now in her 60s, she has a voice that is as understated, easy and direct as ever, capable of switching between rhythmic blues, gospel and the occasional ballad.
IRMA THOMAS Simply Grand (Rounder) Rating: NNNN It took Rounder's A&R ace Scott Billington 20 years and a pile of albums, but he's finally hit on the winning concept of featuring the gorgeous voice of New Orleans soul queen Irma Thomas with spare piano accompaniment. It might seem easy, and the supremely talented Thomas and her 12 pianist collaborators - everyone from Crescent City thrillers Dr. John, Ellis Marsalis and Henry Butler to Norah Jones, Marcia Ball and John Medeski, with Allen Toussaint conspicuously absent - make it all sound effortless.
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.
Simply grand, indeedIt’s become common to see veteran R&B singers thrust into the contemporary spotlight alongside a glut of younger guest stars recruited to provide marketplace allure for a new generation. Irma Thomas, however, doesn’t need to make a comeback, as she’s been recording regularly since 1959 and making great albums since signing with Rounder back in 1986. So, despite the likes of Norah Jones and John Medeski among the 12 visitors on Simply Grand, this project is a smart artistic concept.