February 27, 2007

Something Special Out Of "Nothin'"

"You Don't Know Nothin' About Love" (Jerry Ragavoy)
Irma Thomas, from The Way I Feel, Rounder, 1988

I couldn’t let February get out of here without an Irma Thomas post, both in honor of her 66th birthday on the 18th and her Contemporary Blues Album Grammy® for After the Rain. We were fortunate to see Irma and her band in Lafayette a few weeks back; and she never fails to impress with her high class, yet down home style. The woman’s got it goin’ on.

I was inspired to post this track after listening to Howard Tate’s impressive 45 side of the song from 1972 (Atlantic 2860), produced by its writer, the legendary
Jerry Ragavoy. In the late 1960’s, several versions were done by Lorraine Ellison and Carl Hall for Loma, a label that Ragavoy was involved with, neither of which I have heard; but Tate’s made me recall Irma Thomas’ own later strong turn with it. Her association with Ragavoy goes back at least to 1964, when she recorded her inspirational, definitive version of “Time Is On My Side” for Imperial, written by him under the pseudonym of Norman Meade. Of course, the young, cheeky Rolling Stones stole her thunder and sales, when they covered the tune soon thereafter; but Irma later rightfully reclaimed it. Ragavoy also produced some of Irma’s final and undeservedly overlooked Imperial sides in 1965.

“You Don’t Know Nothin’ About Love” comes from Irma’s 1988 Rounder album,
The Way I Feel, which was her second one for the label. During the 1980s and 1990s, Rounder was seriously focused on the music of the Crescent City. Scott Billington, who continues to produce her for Rounder, has always used the cream of New Orleans session talent plus some well-selected outside players on her records and also those of another classic singer from the city, the late Johnny Adams. The producer and label allowed these artists to revive their lagging careers by making classy, high quality albums that appealed to old fans and new audiences while staying true to the essential soul of their music. No small feat.

If you do not have any of Irma’s Rounder records (what are you waiting for?), The Way I Feel is an excellent starting point. It features three Jerry Ragavoy compositions: today’s feature, the title track (“All I know Is the Way I Feel” to be exact), and “Sorry Wrong Number”. Irma also does a fine Allen Toussaint song, “Old Records”, that has not been covered by anyone else, as far as I know, plus her take on a number of soul classics. “You Don’t Know Nothin’ About Love” is one of fours songs on the album she recorded with members of her own band, the Professionals, plus the Windfall Horns. While I usually focus on funk grooves here, I’ll always make an exception for something as powerful and transfixing as Irma’s moving delivery on this tune, testifying as a woman who knows much, maybe too much, about love.

Ever since I first heard her voice, it has spoken to me of the strong character, richness of spirit, and incredible quality of both the singer and her city. The two are now simply synonymous. And, if you don’t know what I’m talkin’ about, it’s high time you found out.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Irma's voice has certainly reflected the heart and soul of New Orleans for well over 40 years. Lots of thanks to this years JazzFest schedulers for having Irma perform both weekends, the 2nd weekend being listed as a tribute to Mahalia Jackson.

5:18 AM, February 28, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had the chance to catch a performance from Irma Thomas and her band at the Cognac Blues Festival last year and it was really a great show with part of old songs with nice new arrangments and new songs from her recent release. She has a beautiful voice and had a huge charisma. Definetely one of the best concert of that festival with the Neville Brithers and Bettye Lavette

6:21 AM, February 28, 2007  
Blogger Paulsouth said...

2007 is the 40th anniversary of the first time I heard Irma Thomas when her records were issued in the UK on the Liberty label. Wow! and I have loved every record she has made ever since. What sheer consistent quality and I am so glad she won the Grammy.

12:19 PM, March 07, 2007  

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