Irma Thomas Simply Grand

Here’s a cool concept. On Simply Grand, soul veteran Irma Thomas is paired with 13 of the best pianists around in an all-acoustic setting. Prominent ivory tinklers include Norah Jones, John Medeski, Marcia Ball, Randy Newman and Big Easy homeboys Ellis Marsalis, Jon Cleary and Dr. John. The latter, the only pianist here featured twice, is typically fluent on "If I Had Any Sense I’d Go Back Home.” The album’s approach complements her strong and soulful voice perfectly, and the choice of material is similarly adept. A new tune from Burt Bacharach and Steve Krikorian, "What Can I Do,” is featured, as is an unrecorded Doc Pomus/Dr. John number, "Be You.” Thomas draws from gospel ("Underground Stream”), blues ("Same Old Blues”), jazz ("This Bitter Earth”) and soul, and is almost always convincing (though "What Can I Do” verges on being overwrought). At 67, the Grammy-winning "Soul Queen of New Orleans” remains at the top of her game, as shown on the soul-stirring closing track, a lovely cover of Randy Newman classic "I Think It’s Going To Rain Today.” This fine disc deserves to get as much attention as recent efforts from peers like Mavis Staples and Bettye LaVette. (Rounder)