Irma Thomas
The Story of My Life
Rounder 2149
Irma Thomas has been the queen of New Orleans' female vocalists for so long, it's hard to imagine a time when she wasn't recording and performing. A ready smile, warm and friendly vocals and a wide-ranging repertoire have distinguished the Crescent City's sexiest grandmother for many years. Thomas is one of the biggest draws each year at the Jazz and Heritage Festival, enthralling the crowd with "You Can Have My Husband (But Please Don't Mess With My Man)," recorded in 1958 when she was still a teenager. In between tours and concert gigs, she can be found at her own club, the Lion's Den.

Thomas has never been content to become just another nostalgia act. She craves new material and continues to search for the next hit. On The Story of My Life she has gathered 10 new songs from various composers in styles ranging from pop-soul to country ballad. The results are decidedly mixed.

The best of the new material are the three songs associated with legendary songwriter Dan Penn. "I Count the Teardrops" is typical of his contributions, a small burnished gem of soul. "Hold Me While I Cry" showcases Thomas in a soul/country ballad, while "I Won't Cry For You" rides on a second-line roll.

Other songs don't succeed as well as these. "No Use Talkin' " and "Love Don't Get No Better Than This" are upbeat productions well-played and -arranged with nothing new to say. Several more pop-ish ballads fail to distinguish themselves.

In spite of all the new material, the one real standout is the final number, a reading of Aretha's majestic "Dr. Feelgood." Thomas goes all out, pouring herself into the song with masterful results. The story of her life may be that novelty isn't always the best policy; sometimes the past holds the key to the future.

-- David Feld

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