Irma Thomas
"Simply Grand"
Rounder Records

Blueswax 6
Rating 5

Simply Grand is Rounder Records' tenth recording for the Grammy Award-winning Irma Thomas. The concept for this disc was to bring Thomas together with an array of mostly-well-known New Orleans, and two non-New Orleans, pianists (Norah Jones andJohn Medeski).

Thomas is once again reunited with longtime producer and Rounder V.P. Scott Billington, always the perfect match for Thomas. All in all, Simply Grand connects Thomas with all-star pianists Henry Butler, twice with Dr. John, Jon Cleary, Tom McDermott, two times with David Trokanowsky, David Egan, Norah Jones, Ellis Marsalis, John Medeski, Davell Crawford, Marcia Ball, and Randy Newman. In the press kit supplied, producer Billington calls the album: "the most ambitious project that Irma and I have yet undertaken, but we had a ball at every stop along with way. At each of the twelve recording sessions, the musicians were clearly thrilled to be recording with this legendary and ever reaching artist, who is singing today at the peak of her expressive and vocal powers."

Highlights start off with the opening track, that being John Fogerty's "River Is Waiting" with the Crescent City's dazzling keyboard ace Henry Butler, which is perhaps one of the album's best tunes. Jon Cleary sparkles with Irma on that Absolute Gentleman's "Too Much Thinking." David Egan contributes a song on the delightful "Underground Stream," which is breathtaking, and it is great to see Egan back recording again, too. Even the Norah Jones huge hit "Thinking About You" works remarkably well.

I would be remiss to not mention that not only are the featured pianists great players, but other well known sideman make appearances like New Orleans Social Club andIvan Neville drummer Raymond Weber, producer/drummer extraordinaire Steve Jordan, and bassist Tim Luntzel.

Simply Grand achieves its goals with this concept recording Billington and Thomas set out to do, but it does lack that magical Soul/R&B groove that we have been accustomed to from the Soul Queen of New Orleans. Make no mistake, Irma's voice is in fine fettle throughout, but I could have used a bit more old-time grease. Perhaps on the next (eleventh!) Irma Thomas, Scott Billington, Rounder recording. Stay tuned! Bob Putignano is a contributing editor at BluesWax. You may contact Bob at: web site: Bob Putignano: