Irma Thomas

Time Is on My Side: The Best of Irma Thomas, Vol. 1

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This 23-track compilation is one of two very generous, mostly overlapping Irma Thomas collections out there -- the other is Razor & Tie's Sweet Soul Queen of New Orleans: The Irma Thomas Collection. The order here is strictly chronological, mostly going A-side by A-side on the Minit and Imperial singles, with some occasional leaps to the B-sides where they're relevant (and a lot of Thomas' B-sides were). All of it shows off the then twenty-something Thomas extending her range by leaps and bounds with each succeeding side, a level of subtle nuance added here, a prodigious burst of lung power there -- in the latter department, "Break-A-Way" and "Time Is on My Side" still comprise one of the great one-two punches in any artist's repertory. But the A-side of that last (which puts the Stones' version to shame), "Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand)," isn't to be missed, either. The second half of this collection is an overview of what should have been -- Thomas' early Imperial sides were her biggest, most recognizable hits, but the material that follows is definitely not filler, and why those songs never sold is anyone's guess. What's more, overlooking the unaccountably modest performance of records such as "He's My Guy" and "I'm Gonna Cry Till My Tears Run Dry," there's just no explaining why the brace of unissued sides here, including her version of the Chantels' "Maybe," the Pomus-Shuman co-authored "Think Again," and the Bacharach-David "Live Again," never made it out the door. The latter song, in particular, could have given Thomas the mainstream success that eluded her after 1963. As it is, there's not a song here that doesn't hold up magnificently five decades later, even as the whole collection only whets the appetite for more of Thomas' music.

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