"The Soul Queen of New Orleans" is what they call Irma Thomas, and after listening to her newly reissued In Between Tears, I can certainly see why. The album was initially released in 1973 on the homegrown Fungus Records label, so it has remained well under the radar for the past 40 years. As part of what is turning out to be a remarkable reissue program, Alive Records have just re-released In Between Tears. The record has been fully remastered, and two bonus tracks have been added. It is one of the finest examples of early '70s soul I have ever heard.
The opening track is "In Between Tears," and it is a literal blast of horns, courtesy of "The Swamp Dogg Band." Swamp Dogg, a.k.a. Jerry Williams Jr. and his band are all over this album, and it is clear that they were one of the most underrated R&B outfits of the day. This is very much Ms. Thomas' record though. Her powerful vocals reflect a woman who knows exactly what she is doing.
It is no surprise that Irma Thomas grew up in the church, for many of the best tracks have something of a gospel feel. This is most noticeable on "You're The Dog (I Do The Barking Myself)." This track is also graced by the presence of Duane Allman. Apparently Allman just happened to be hanging out at the Capricorn Studios at the time, which worked out well for everybody. His guitar playing is most noticeable during the fadeout. To be honest, there are no real fireworks, but his performance on the album's centerpiece is a very different story.
The twelve-and-a-half minute medley "Coming From Behind" (Monologue)/ "Wish Someone Would Care" is amazing. Thomas takes a cue from Issac Hayes' classic "By The Time I Get To Phoenix" in the lengthy monologue "Coming From Behind," and shows us that she is nobody's fool. "I'm in love, but I'm miserable," she states at one point, and Lord help the man who made her feel that way. This is no purring kitten, nor is she hardened and angry. No, she is a real lady, unlucky in love, but willing to work to make it work. To hear such brutal honesty on a record is a compelling factor to be sure, but the quality of the conviction in her voice is something else again.
Thomas wrote "Wish Someone Would Care," which is the song that the monologue leads in to. She really lets loose here, and Allman's contributions are the perfect compliment to her voice. The gospel-tinged "Turn My World Around" closed out the original LP, and once again the horns of The Swamp Dogg Band shine brightly.
The two bonus tracks are fine examples of early '70s soul as well. "We Won't Be In Your Way Anymore" and "I'll Do It All Over You" were the A and B sides of a stand-alone single. They serve as great additions to the set.
When Alive reissued the first two Swamp Dogg albums a couple of months ago, I was impressed. Those were records that I had heard a lot about, but had never had the chance to actually hear. It seemed like a really cool find for them, and I really did not expect anything more. With the release of In Between Tears I am seeing a much bigger picture. There was some serious music going on in the original Dogg's scene, and it was not just confined to his own recordings. The quality of the musicianship behind Irma here reminds me of the amazing house band at Stax, which is high praise. I sure hope there are more gems like this just waiting for our discovery. For now though, In Between Tears will do very nicely indeed.