Reviewed by Jim Caligiuri, Fri., May 26, 2006
After the Rain (Rounder)
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Irma Thomas was among New Orleans musicians reportedly missing. Turns out she was in Austin, although nearly all her possessions, including her home and nightclub, were lost. After the Rain, the Soul Queen's first album in six years, is subtly informed by the disaster the rain of the title but it's really a statement of her extraordinary strength, as well as her ability to inhabit a surprisingly varied repertoire that spans 75 years of American songwriting. Unlike Thomas' most recent work, Rain frames her marvelous and supple voice with relatively spare arrangements provided by mostly acoustic instruments. The result is closer to what one might expect from Delbert McClinton or Marcia Ball: laid-back soul accentuating the rich nuances of her vocals. Drawing from contemporary writers Gwil Owen, Kevin Gordon, and Eleni Mandell, and mixing them with tunes from legends like Arthur Alexander, Blind Willie Johnson, and Doc Pomus, Thomas' willingness to take chances mostly pays off. Stevie Wonder's "Shelter in the Rain" as the closer is worth the price of the disc alone. Accompanied simply by David Torkanowsky's piano, Thomas torches it up with the consummate grace of someone who's lived it over the course of a career that's exceeded more than 40 years.