There is a modest majesty about Irma Thomas's voice on After the Rain that befits her status as the Queen of New Orleans Soul. Her direct, undemonstrative delivery on tracks such as Arthur Alexander's slow-burning "In the Middle of It All" and the gospel-flavoured civil rights anthem "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free" (better known as Barry Norman's old film-review theme tune) packs a bigger punch than any R&B diva showboating. It's all a matter of character rather than technique, Thomas's faith in her own abilities enabling her to effortlessly convey the sincerity so lacking in most modern "soul" music. It's particularly effective on remodelled blues pieces such as "Soul of a Man", "Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor" and "Another Man Done Gone", underscored by the dirt-dry rural twang of acoustic guitar, banjo and electric piano. Producer Scott Billington's part in the album should be acknowledged: apart from the shlocky version of Stevie Wonder's "Shelter in the Rain", his arrangements and song selection are perfectly devised to bring out the best qualities of Thomas's voice, which is every bit as moving here as it was 40 years ago: truly, time is on her side.
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