The First Lady of New Orleans Soul, Irma Thomas had been out of the music business for several years after Hurricane Camille tore through the Crescent City in 1969, but in 1973 Jerry Williams, Jr. (better known as R&B iconoclast Swamp Dogg) was serving as producer and A&R man for a new label, Fungus Records, and he persuaded Thomas to return to the studio to cut a new album. The result, In Between Tears, was a triumph, an album that recast Thomas as a grown woman who sang about life and love with a hard-won sense of passionate commitment and emotional honesty, and her rich, gospel-influenced vocals were accompanied by some of the best musicians in Southern soul, among them Duane Allman (his performances were lifted from a 1971 session with Thomas), Jimmy Johnson, Spooner Oldham, and the Memphis Horns. For reasons that defy conventional logic, Williams was not entirely happy with the album's production, and in 1993 he reissued the set as Turn My World Around with two songs clipped off, the sequence shuffled and, most importantly, new backing tracks that added synthesizers, booming digital drums, and a deeply echoey mix in a bid to make a timeless album sound "modern." Now Williams has reissued both versions of the album on a single CD through his Swamp Dogg Entertainment Group label as Two Phases of Irma Thomas, with the first 11 tracks comprising the original mix and sequence of In Between Tears, and tracks 12 through 20 featuring the Turn My World Around mixes. In his liner notes, Williams writes "Phase two kicks more funk where Phase One is the ultimate in Southern Soul and Blues," and his assessment is pretty accurate, but the after-the-fact electronic funk of Turn My World Around simply doesn't serve Thomas as well as the sweet and sour soul of In Between Tears, though her brilliant vocals shine like a diamond in either mix. Most fans of classic soul will probably want to program out the second half of Two Phases of Irma Thomas when they give it a spin, but at the very least this disc brings a lost classic back in print, and completists will appreciate that Williams has made it available with both versions on one disc.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming