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August 2000

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Irma Thomas
My Heart's In Memphis: The Songs of Dan Penn

Irma Thomas This CD should be a Grammy winner. Not only to Irma Thomas for the best soul/blues performance, but also to Scott Billington (Irma's producer since signing with Rounder Records in 1985) for coming up with the concept of this album, and teaming  with Dan Penn to produce  a release that will surely be on everyone's top ten in the year 2000. (It goes to the top of mine). I have always been an Irma Thomas fan (following her career from label to label) and this is the finest release of her 15 year association with Rounder. It's obvious how she earned the title of the "Soul Queen of New Orleans". 

Irma's association with Dan Penn goes back as far as 1967, when she recorded Penn's "Cheater Man" for Chess Records, and in 1979 when she recorded "Woman Left Lonely" and "Zero Will Power" for RCS Records, which had only limited success in the New Orleans area. She reprises both of these on this her new album, a testament to the quality songwriting of Penn. Her first release for Rounder in 1986, titled "The New Rules," featured a Penn tune "Good Things Don't Come Easy".

It would have been quite easy to just pick a batch of Penn's earlier successes, such as "Dark End of the Street," "Do Right Woman" or "Cry Like A Baby." But as I said earlier, Scott Billington was out to produce that magical album, and he certainly achieved that here. The only early "hit" song here is "I'm Your Puppet," a smash for Bobby & James Purify in the 60's. But even that old chestnut was given a new arrangement here. The inclusion of such stellar songwriter/musicians such as Spooner Oldham, Carson Whitsett and Bobby Emmons, who all have this music running through their veins, also contributes to making this an indispensable release. 

Pick up a couple of copies, since a gift of music of this quality will be appreciated for years to come by anyone lucky enough to be a recipient.

 --- Alan Shutro

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