Marcia Ball, Irma Thomas, Tracy Nelson
Sing It!
Rounder 2152A
During the 1996 Jazz & Heritage Festival in New Orleans, this triumvirate of female R&B belters got together for a live concert broadcast over the public radio station WWOZ and National Public Radio. Soon after the performance, Irma Thomas suggested the recording collaboration that became Sing It! Rounder labelmates Marcia Ball and Tracy Nelson, both long-time Thomas devotees (Nelson, for example, has recorded nine Thomas songs), eagerly accepted.

While Thomas is at the spiritual center of the album, it's a true collaboration, with each vocalist taking turns in the spotlight and the singers combining for a couple of duets as well as four pieces in which the trio shares lead vocals. It is when these talented women join forces as such that the album shines most brightly. The cover version of Joe Tex's "I Want to Do Everything for You," for example, is simply irresistible (and, as an aside, sounds like something Reba McIntyre might cover, although Reba's got nothing on these women). "Heart to Heart," an effective, country-flavored duet by Ball and Nelson, provides the album's best slow-dance opportunity (ladies' choice, no doubt).

Another winner is the Bobby Bland cover, "Yield Not to Temptation," which finds Thomas in the driver's seat with Ball and Nelson jumping in for full-blown gospel call-and-response backing vocals. It's a fun tune, incorporating a supercharged "Wang Dang Doodle" riff over a cut-time country beat that segues into a vigorous gospel chorus. The track is only three minutes long, so listeners can only imagine the fever-pitch that this song potentially could reach in a live setting.

In addition to the notable cover tunes, Sing It! features new material from Thomas and Ball, as well as songwriters David Egan, Sarah Brown, Al Anderson and Steve Cropper, among others. Egan's title track is classic Marcia Ball-meets-Professor Longhair, with second line rhythm and additional percussion in support.

The album could stand one or two fewer gospel-styled ballads. Otherwise, the mix of vocal combinations and rhythms, drawn mostly from '60s R&B and soul, is extremely easy to listen to and stands up well to repeated plays. It's also a welcome relief to listeners who value the songs themselves -- with a vocal emphasis -- over instrumental solos, the latter of which are a rare garnish to these fine recordings.

-- Bryan Powell

This page and all contents are © 1998 by Blues Access,
Boulder, CO, USA.