Irma Thomas – After The Rain | Album Review

Irma ThomasAfter The Rain

Craft Recordings

2 LP set 45 rpm

LP  #1 –  7 Tracks   26 minutes

LP #2 –  6 Tracks   23 minutes

As part of their extensive reissue program, Craft Recordings is offering the first vinyl release of After The Rain, originally released by Rounder Records in 2006. It enabled Irma Thomas to receive her first Grammy Award, named the recipient of the award in the 2007 Best Contemporary Blues Album category, edging out Dr. John, Robert Cray, Keb’ Mo’, and Susan Tedeschi. The two records are cut on 180 gram vinyl at 45 RPM speed, improving the sound quality through wider grooves that can hold more sonic detail, which also meant expanding to two albums to fit all of the tracks that appeared on the original release.

The recording sessions started late in 2005 at Dockside Studios in Maurice, LA in the aftermath of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, and finished early the following year. All but one song had been selected before Katrina unleashed her destructive force across Louisiana, yet many songs offer measures of hope or mine the despair that were all too familiar to those like Thomas, who lost everything.

Producer Scott Billington made a decision to pare back the instrumentation so that Thomas’s luxurious voice is featured throughout, not that she needs any help commanding your attention. The stellar cast of musicians selected for the project include Sonny Landreth on slide guitar, Dirk Powell on a variety of stringed instruments, David Torkanowsky on keyboards, James Singleton on acoustic bass, and Stanton Moore on drums. Their accompaniment tends to be spare and acoustic, leaving plenty of room in the arrangements for Thomas to shine.

Highlights on the first LP include a stunning rendition of the Doc Pomus/Mort Shuman penned “I Count The Tears”. The instrumental backing is simply Singleton’s bass and Billington on the tambourine. Juanita Brooks, Marc Broussard, and Charles “Chucky C” Elam, III form a heavenly backing chorus. Thomas takes her time, utilizing her impeccable phrasing to expose layers of emotions in the lyrics. It is the work of singer who is totally confident, able to dig deep into a song, rendering any vocal histrionics totally unnecessary.

The opening track, Arthur Alexander’s “In The Middle Of It All,” is a somber exploration on dying love that also reflects the effects of Katrina. Moore’s light touch gives the track a firm foundation, and Landreth’s mournful slide licks echo the despair in Thomas’s understated, gentle vocal. “Flowers” cranks things up as the singer delves into the torment caused by drunken driving, with Powell on fiddle and Landreth again impressing with his brief solo.

“Another Man Done Gone” was the lone track added at the last minute. Hearing Thomas singing lines about another storm hitting, and water rising above the door, can’t fail to create vivid images in the mind of listeners, especially at the close when she reminds us, “…another thousand gone, another thousand gone.” Powell switched to a fret-less banjo on the standard “Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor,” giving the song that old-time feel. He also plays acoustic guitar, laying down a solo short on notes, but with plenty heart. Thomas is right at home singing the blues with a relaxed approach that is a perfect match for the laid-back accompaniment.

“I Wish I Knew How It Feels To Be Free” gives Thomas a chance to share the church aspect of her artistry, getting superb help from Torkanowsky on organ and piano. The power of her voice is amply demonstrated on “If You Knew How Much,” a woman hopelessly in love, unable to break free of a bad relationship.

The heartache continues on the second album as Thomas lays out another tale of unending heartbreak on “Till I Can’t Take It Anymore,” her tone conveying that she still has some pride despite the litany of mistreatment. On “These Honey Dos,” Torkanowsky spins inventive fills on the piano to expertly compliment a vocal turn that finally injects a bit of humor into the proceedings. Corey Harris guests on a cover of Blind Willie Johnson’s classic, “Soul Of A Man,” joining Powell on the banjo and Moore on percussion. Thomas once again sings with the conviction of a believer, giving a taut performance over the acoustic backing.

The band turns up the energy on “Stone Survivor,” with the song’s co-writer, David Egan, taking over on piano while Torkanowsky is featured on the Hammond B3 organ. Landreth gets one last opportunity to showcase his prodigious guitar abilities while Thomas makes it clear that she has what it takes to make it through anything – the blues, a hurricane, or anything else life throws at her. And she does it with true class and style, never falling victim to unnecessary screams and overwrought vocal deliveries.

The final track, “Shelter In The Rain,” is a ballad written by Stevie Wonder. With Torkanowsky playing gorgeous accompaniment on the piano, Thomas offers one more touching plea, an offer to provide comfort and hope in the midst of the world’s turmoil and strife. It is a fitting coda for a release that finds Irma Thomas unflinchingly working through the emotions of life, love, and natural disasters. Every aspect of this recording is top-notch. But it is the voice of Miss Thomas that you will remember, and will keep you coming back to this highly recommended release!

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