Album: Irma Thomas, Simply Grand (Decca/Rounder)

The punning album title – this collection of songs pairs the Soul Queen of New Orleans with a series of solo piano accompanists – implies both the strengths and occasional weaknesses of Irma Thomas's voice. A powerful and authoritative instrument, it has undeniable grandeur on the best tracks, such as John Fogerty's "River Is Waiting", but sometimes it's too statuesque to animate the material, as on the ill-fitting new Bacharach composition "What Can I Do". Such failures are rare here, particularly when Thomas is supported by hometown pianists such as Dr John, Henry Butler and Tom McDermott, and her control of expression in the service of emotion is best demonstrated alongside Randy Newman, bringing a regal dignity to "I Think It's Going To Rain Today".

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'River Is Waiting', 'I Think It's Going To Rain Today'