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Irma Thomas – 1973 – In Between Tears

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AllMusic Review by Jason Ankeny

In the wake of 1969’s devastating Hurricane Camille, New Orleans soul queen Irma Thomas abandoned the Gulf Coast in favor of the West Coast, settling in Los Angeles and largely forsaking her singing career in favor of the relative stability of retail work. 

Thomas finally resurfaced in 1973 with a series of little-noticed singles on the Fungus label that teamed her with producer Jerry “Swamp Dogg” Williams and guitarist Duane Allman — the resulting LP In Between Tears remains a lost classic that captures deep soul at its most poignant and resonant, couching Thomas’ deeply affecting vocals in earthy arrangements that emphasize the singer’s gospel roots.

The sass and vivacity of Thomas’ earliest singles is long gone, replaced by the world-weary melancholy of a woman struggling simply to hold on. Songs like “Wish Someone Would Care” “These Four Walls” and the title cut evoke life and love in the margins with uncommon accuracy and sympathy, galvanized by the most intensely intimate performances of Thomas’ career. 

A1 In Between Tears 2:34
A2 She’ll Never Be Your Wife 2:55
A3 These Four Walls 3:10
A4 What’s So Wrong With You Loving Me 2:19
A5 You’re the Dog (I Do the Barking Myself) 2:59
B1 Medley:
Coming From Behind (Monologue) 5:12
Wish Someone Would Care 7:22
B2 Turn My World Around 2:03

Review by Soulmakossa

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned… and in this case, the Soul Queen of New Orleans in a bad mood is no laughing matter either.

Irma Thomas was at a crossroads in 1973, and was thankfully picked up by the legendary Jerry ‘Swamp Dogg’ Williams to rescue her from oblivion. 

Produced by the inimitable man himself and recorded with his own band (they truly had that Muscle Shoals thang down), ‘In Between Tears’ is something of a concept album, and a pretty schizoid one at that. Ms. Thomas tackles the issue of romance and cheating from the standpoint of the woman cheating, as well as the woman being cheated. Receipe for disaster? Hardly; Swamp Dogg’s writing, the funky backing band and Irma’s own superb, gospelfide vocal result in a diamond of a LP brimming with Southern Soul goodies.

The mood is immediately set with the title-track, a lilting mid-tempo groove heavy on the bass and cushioned with sweet string lines. Irma delves into the psyche of a brokenhearted lady here, and delivers a passionate, fiery vocal.

She’s even more intense on the biting “She’ll Never Be Your Wife“, another funky composition with more of those churchy backing vocals and a tasteful dose of strings. 

Changing viewpoint, Irma delves into the bumpy blues grind of “These Four Walls” before going for broke on the smoldering “What’s So Wrong With You Loving Me“, which starts off with doom & gloom drums, glides into a funky, mid-tempo groove and also has a brilliant staccato string arrangement midway through. Both tunes are sung from the perspective of a woman in love with a married man, which is, evidently, reciprocated.

The hardest funk is reseverd for the stomping “You’re the Dog (I Do the Barking Myself“), and Irma is back as the jilted spouse once again, viciously groaning, wailing and soaring through the lines.

But the main piece of this album undoubtedly is the extended remake of her legendary hit “Wish Someone Would Care”. In true Isaac Hayes-going-to-Phoenix style, the first part is Ms. Thomas delivering a stinging monologue on cheating husbands (“Coming From Behind”), with nothing but a simple drum beat, bass and guitar accompanying her. Then, she steers things into the actual song, “Wish Someone Would Care”. 

What’s so special about this extended jam is that whereas Isaac Hayes – and his multitude of imitators – drenched his soundscapes in full orchestral arrangements with everything from french horns and flugelhorns to cellos and basoons (ain’t nothing wrong with that, I like those too), Irma’s mammoth recording is just her, the drums, the bass, the piano and a crackeling guitar. And boy does it hit hard. The melodic groove cooked up is hypnotizing, a simple eight-note ascending-descending motif with Irma truly firing on all cilinders in the vocal department, sounding increasingly more desperate and angry. When the fade out hits at the 12-minute mark, you feel tired… a good kind of tired, just knocked out. 

After all the mayhem, bitterness and accusations, Irma nevertheless sounds reconciliatory on the album’s last track, “Turn My World Around“, a fast paced slab of funky soul which has her imploring her man to come back and make things right again.

Probably Irma’s finest LP, and certainly a teasure trove of Southern Soul goodies.