`True Believer' Shows Evolution Of Irma Thomas

BLUES

WATCH out for this voice!

Irma Thomas's powerful, evocative voice just might redefine your taste in music. Her latest album, "True Believer," will certainly transform preconceived ideas about the blues. Blasting away with a confidence she must have been born with, Thomas delivers uncompromising sound.

This sort of bold self-assurance is exactly what got Thomas her first singing job more than three decades ago.

Back in 1958, Thomas was waitressing at a club in New Orleans when she jumped on stage one night and started singing with the band. The disapproving Pamlico Club fired her. But the band - Tommy Ridgley and the Untouchables - hired her and launched her career.

Though Thomas's 1964 song "Wish Someone Would Care" reached No. 17 on the Billboard's Hot 100, she didn't get any sustained national exposure until she signed with Rounder Records in 1986.

"True Believer," on Rounder Records, is an impressive follow-up to her Grammy-nominated 1991 album "Simply the Best: Live!" In fact, it is even better.

Thomas masterfully handles three classics - "Chains of Love," "Sweet Touch of Love," and "I'll Be Satisfied."

But from beginning to end, it's the new songs Thomas includes that demonstrate the evolution of her vibrant, modern sound.

The songs on "True Believer" meld into a coherent whole, with songwriter Dan Penn contributing the memorable "Trying to Catch a Cab in the Rain" and the spectacular "Smoke Filled Room." Credit also goes to painstaking work by co-producer Scott Billington who has put together several previous records with Thomas.

Irma Thomas's band "The Professionals" includes guitarist Cranston Clements, David Torkanowsky and Sammy Berfect on keyboards, Herman Ernest III on percussion, and saxophonist Amadee Castenel.

After her strong start in New Orleans in the early 1960s, with hits such as "Don't Mess With My Man," "It's Raining," and "Time Is on My Side," Thomas had some low points.

By the mid-'60s, with the British Invasion grabbing all the headlines in the music world, and no hits of her own on the charts, Thomas watched The Rolling Stones turn a song she had written, "Time Is on My Side," into their first big international hit.

After this blow, Thomas disappeared for a while, holding down a day job in California.

But she didn't stop singing. And as various singing engagements started cropping up in New Orleans, she moved back in the mid-'70s.

Thomas has always had a fiery presence. But her honey-smooth voice mixes with her conviction and energy on "True Believer" to produce a richer and more consistent sound than on any previous effort.

With four records currently available from Rounder, Thomas's music is easily accessible.

Even if you don't think you love the blues, give one of her CDs a try. It is entirely likely that you'll find yourself going back for more.

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