Saturday, May 13, 2006

Irma Thomas - After the Rain (Rounder, 2006)

Hurricane Katrina may have destroyed vocalist Irma Thomas' New Orleans home, but it did nothing to dent her spirit. Regrouping in the still devastated city with crack musicians including members of the Neville Brothers band to cut her latest record, she stays true to her bluesy r&b roots."Flowers" tells a sad tale of a man taken all too soon, and the aftermath of his death on those who mourn him. "Make Me a Pallet on the Floor" and "Another Man Done Gone" (a variation on Big Joe Williams "Baby Please Don't Go") go way down in the alley and allow Thomas to really belt out the old school blues, and they are the among the most successful tracks on the album. "These Honey Dos" puts that no-good man in his place over some rollicking piano accompaniment.

"Another Lonely Heart" and "Till I Can't Take It Anymore" add a little too much pop sugar to the mix, although "Heart" is redeemed by some tasty violin and guitar playing. "Soul of a Man" by Blind Willie Johnson gets things back on track with a quietly powerful and haunted reading backed with tasteful acoustic guitars. "Stone Survivor" blasts out with a full band rave-up; after what she lost in Katrina, this is a great statement of purpose. People who think the blues is just sadness and woe should listen to the grit and determination in her voice and the playing of the band (especially Sonny Landreth with some stunning slide guitar) on this track. "Shelter in the Rain" brings it all back to New Orleans with Thomas' gospel/r&b voice reaching near-operatic heights. This is solid and occasionally great music from one of America's legendary Rhythm and Blues singers.

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