Irma Thomas: After the Rain

Dara Kartz

New Orleans's Queen of Soul shows she has as much resilience as her hometown on her first album in six years.

Irma Thomas

After the Rain

Label: Rounder
US Release Date: 2006-04-25
UK Release Date: 2006-05-15

New Orleans has been a steady producer of the very best R&B talent over the years, from Fats Domino to the Neville Brothers. Irma Thomas first carved out her place in the scene as a teenager in the 1950s with the hit "You Can Have My Husband (But Please Don't Mess With My Man)", but is probably best known for her later hit "It's Raining", and her influence on the Rolling Stones' "Time Is on My Side", modeled after Thomas's own version of the song. While others of her generation have settled quietly into retirement or limited their careers to a few appearances at festivals, Thomas's reputation has only grown with the years: she is the long-reigning "Soul Queen of New Orleans".

After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the resulting devastation was only still being realized, the news started reporting that some local celebrities were missing in the aftermath, including Fats Domino, Alan Toussaint, and Irma Thomas. The immediate flood of calls that her record label began receiving demonstrates the status of local treasure that Thomas has achieved. While she had actually been far from the storm, gigging in Texas at the time, Thomas returned to find her two homes ruined and her nightclub washed away. Many local musicians banded together after Katrina for benefit concerts, recordings, and appearances to remind the world of the great musical strength of the city. Always demonstrating a strong connection to her hometown, it made sense that Irma Thomas would be among the locals to step forward at this time; she did even more than that at Madison Square Garden's "From the Big Apple to the Big Easy" benefit concert when offering a heartbreaking and chilling performance of "It's Raining" that trumped even the super-star headliners of the night. The tragic circumstances of Katrina would ultimately be responsible for shining the spotlight back on local artists and, certainly, reminded people of Irma Thomas's gifts as a singer and storyteller.

The selected songs on Thomas's sixth album, After the Rain, span the catalogue of American songwriting from the past 75 years, and while most of them had already been chosen before Katrina hit, the themes of rain, water, and loss found throughout is an eerie coincidence and brings a new light to the old songs. Arthur Alexander's "In the Middle of it All" takes on a different story of loss here, and when Thomas sings "My friends look at me and say / 'I wonder what made the girl that way / The girl doesn't smile at all' / But I wonder what my friends would say / If their world just came down one day / And they were in the middle of it all", it's more than a story of lost love that comes to mind. That's the gift of Thomas as a storyteller demonstrated on this album; each song is breathed an entire new life as it comes out of her mouth. The one song included specifically with the hurricane in mind is Thomas's custom version of the old blues number "Another Man Done Gone", recorded here as a smoldering tribute to Katrina's victims as well as the service-men and -women lost in Iraq: "The water's at his door / I didn't know his name / Another man done gone-- / He's in a faraway land / He won't be home again / Another man done gone... another thousand gone". The link between Irma Thomas and Hurricane Katrina is an obvious one, but as the Queen said herself about the songs on this record: "You can get your own depression going, I don't need to help you with it... The songs are not meant to bring sadness, it's meant to get you through it."

Beyond just the achievement of recording this record in Louisiana shortly after Katrina, the album also celebrates the singer's 20-year anniversary of working with Rounder producer Scott Billington. Although she is known for her R&B roots and rich, throaty alto, Billington wanted to take this record in a different direction to feature Thomas vocally. The typical horn section and heavy instrumental background was bypassed completely for a stripped-down, raw sound, here made up of bare vocals and acoustic instruments handled by some of New Orleans's finest, such as Sonny Landreth and Dirk Powell. What results is a recording with a more bluesy and folksy leaning than longtime fans may be used to hearing from Thomas, but it's also an ideal framing for her vocals, which have only grown richer over the years. This is an album that truly highlights the talents of a New Orleans treasure at a time when we are painfully aware of how many treasures have been washed away.

B.B. King & Irma Thomas - You Can Have My Husband


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.