For a half century, Irma Thomas has been firmly established as the undisputed queen of New Orleans soul, and over the years has issued several standout recordings for the Rounder label. This collection features 15 of her very best works with no filler or sub-standard tracks, and includes three previously unissued tracks. Thomas taps on the deep wellspring of songwriters and performers from the Crescent City, including David Torkanowsky, Allen Toussaint, Dr. John, Doc Pomus, Doyle Bramhall II, Sonny Landreth, James Singleton, Stanton Moore, and Henry Butler among many others. This compilation, organized from her 25 years on the Rounder label, comes from six of her eleven albums, tacking on tunes from the Rhino collections I Believe to My Soul and 'Till The Night Is Gone; A Tribute to Doc Pomus, as well as the Nonesuch label collection Our New Orleans. The CD is highlighted by three selections from her all-time best and Grammy-award winning recording After the Rain, a post-Katrina anthem for the ages in and of itself. On a pure blues side, there's the raunchy, Bayou-humid thick "Another Man Done Gone" from After the Rain, and Bessie Smith's "Back Water Blues" via the compilation Our New Orleans -- both classics. Gospel-soul is always a part of the repertoire as heard on the confirmational tune "Let It Be Me" or "There Must Be a Better World Somewhere," co-written by Dr. John and Doc Pomus. Thomas specializes in downtrodden, brokenhearted songs such as the confused, sad ballad "What Can I Do?," "I Count the Tears" (from After the Rain) with a supportive chorus amid the gloomy mood, and the regretful ballad "Loving Arms." There's a funky, more commercial cover of the Purify Brothers' hit "I'm Your Puppet" with a horn section and popping electric bass guitar, a good-time rocker "The New Rules" affirming woman power, and the song of hope "River Is Waiting" with Butler's lively piano urging the band and singers to stand up and be counted. Thomas owns the kind of voice that is universally likable, never straining for high notes, unwavering in her soulful content, and as precise as any vocalist could dream of. She's simply precious, direct, stirring, and exciting no matter the style or lyric content. Though all of her individual CD's are easily recommended, this one is a must-have for collectors of greatest-hits packages, and especially those who for some reason have not yet discovered this brilliant American artist -- truly one of a kind.
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AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos