Irma Thomas My Heart's in Memphis: The Songs of Dan Penn (Rounder)
My Heart's in Memphis: The Songs of Dan Penn (Rounder)
Reviewed by Margaret Moser, Fri., Oct. 13, 2000
My Heart's in Memphis: The Songs of Dan Penn (Rounder)It might have been easier to accept the low-key My Heart's in Memphis from New Orleans' Queen of Soul Irma Thomas if her East Texas peer Barbara Lynn hadn't recently released a much torchier, more soulful album. Thomas' last effort with Tracy Nelson and Marcia Ball on Sing It! was full of rich, spirited harmonies and sexy ballads. This collaboration with noted songwriter Dan Penn ("Do Right Woman," "Cry Like a Baby," "Sweet Inspiration"), surprisingly enough, doesn't do justice to the talents of either. Penn's credentials are solid, from his Southern roots and production of the Box Tops back in the late Sixties to the enduring classics he's, well, penned (pardon the pun), and yet putting the two talents together is akin to forcing ends of the same magnetic pole head-to-head: The individual forces repel direct contact, and yet fit together nicely side by side. Thomas' voice is lovely as ever, and many of Penn's classics ("Dark Side of the Street," "A Woman Left Lonely") benefit by it. Likewise, Penn's new material, composed for and sometimes with Thomas ("Life at the End of the Road," "Irma's Song," "Keep It Simple") and occasionally with longtime partners Spooner Oldham and Donnie Fritts, fits her well, but the whole is not as great as the sum of its parts, and that's a damn shame. Regional royalty like Irma Thomas and veteran talents like Dan Penn should always get credit for their body of work, and many people will be thrilled by Memphis' rather schmaltzy production. Even if its heart is in Memphis, it could have used more punch and less mellow.