The Deal: The Soul Queen of New Orleans retains her title.
The Good: Irma Thomas' latest, Simply Grand, might be a little more low-key than some of her past work, but with that voice, it's enough to keep you vibrating. It's a concept album, with each cut accompanied by a different pianist. Although some of the contributors including Marcia Ball and Dr. John have performed vocally with Thomas in the past, on this outing it's just her solo vocals. It's more than enough. Nobody else can wring the emotion out of a lyric like Irma. On "Same Old Blues" she's got the sub woofers thrumming with her low-down, sexy, soulful crooning. Thomas reveals a seldom seen side on some cuts, sounding Ella Fitzgerald-like on "This Bitter Earth," accompanied by Ellis Marsalis. For those who came for her trademark queenly soul, Thomas delivers on "Thinking About You." It's enough to keep even the glorious voice of Norah Jones quiet, only contributing piano on the cut. But it's on the bluesy heartbreakers that Thomas really shines. The gospel-tinged "Cold Rain" with David Torkanowsky delivers the soulful sermon that fans have come to expect of her. And if its gospel you're after, Henry Butler helps Thomas have church on "River is Waiting." "Somebody Told You," with Medeski Martin and Wood's John Medeski is Thomas at her rocking best. The only problem is it cries out for a full band behind it to really take it over the top. It'd be great to see her do it live with her band punching it up.
The Bad: The words bad and Irma Thomas don't belong in the same sentence. Never have, never will.
The Verdict: Make sure you leave plenty of room in your Irma Thomas collection –– after 50 years in the business, Thomas proves she still has more to deliver.