Thursday, April 3, 2014

Irma Thomas: “Full Time Woman: The Lost Cotillion Album” (2014) CD Review

In the early 1970s, Irma Thomas recorded an album’s worth of tracks for Cotillion, a subsidiary of Atlantic Records. Most of these tracks were left unreleased until now. The exceptions are “Full Time Woman,” which was released as a single in 1971, and “She’s Taken My Place,” which was that single’s flip side.

Irma Thomas has a great voice, full of soul, full of emotion. It’s simply fantastic, particularly that great cry in her voice that she uses at just the right moments. Other times her voice is so smooth, like during some of “Shadow Of The Sun.” She also has some seriously good musicians backing her on these tracks. Check out the bass line on “Waiting For Someone,” for example.

It’s remarkable that this collection of songs remained unreleased for so long. But I am so glad we all get a chance now to enjoy these tracks, most of which are absolutely wonderful. This release includes liner notes by David Nathan, with quotes from an interview with Irma Thomas.

“Full Time Woman”

“Full Time Woman,” the title track (and one of two to have been previously released), has a good, sweet groove.  This song has a woman asking a man about his new woman (“Does she help you like I never would?”). And it takes only a moment of hearing her voice to know this man made a mistake in ever letting her go. But it’s a bit more complicated than that. She sings, “You say you could take good care of me if I’d come home/Do you know, oh can’t you see, I would like to have heard these words before I’d gone.” It’s an excellent vocal performance. Irma has a sexy voice, full of heartache and experience. The backing vocals seem to offer her some comfort and companionship, a nice touch.

“All I Wanna Do Is Save You”

“All I Wanna Do Is Save You” opens with the lines, “You tell me things are not going right/And all she does is fuss and fight.” Yes, in this song she’s looking in on another relationship, and it pains her. “This is why I’ve got to prove myself to you/Show you what real love can do for you.” She appoints herself to help, her emotions running high. “When she’s hurting you, she’s hurting me/I don’t want to hurt you, never will desert you/All I want to do, baby, is save you.” And oh man, being saved never sounded so good. Listen to the raw power in her voice on those words: “save you.”

“She’s Taken My Part”

“She’s Taken My Part” is a fun tune, partly because of the horns, partly because of its good groove. This was the flip side to “Full Time Woman.” Two days have passed since the couple of this song broke up, and now the woman is wandering around town, looking for the man while he’s with someone else. Yeah, the woman of this song might come across as a bit obsessive. I dig the backing vocals echoing her at the end: “It’s breaking my heart,” “Taken my part,” and “Stolen the show.”

Bobbie Gentry’s “Fancy”

“Fancy” begins in a cool, sly fashion, and then Irma’s vocals come in, telling tales of hard times. And holy moly, listen to the vibrant power in her vocals, which are delivered over a nice soul groove. This song has a fun feel, but some serious subject matter, with lines like “Your pa’s run off, and I’m real sick, and the baby’s gonna starve to death” and “Well, that was the last time I saw my ma, the night I left the rickety shack/’Cause the welfare people came and took my baby, Mama died, and I ain’t been back.”  There is also a Hamlet reference, using Polonius’ oft-quoted line, “To thine own self be true” (here presented in a heart-shaped locket). “Fancy” was written by Bobbie Gentry, who had a hit with it in 1969. I completely love this track, and it’s one of my favorites from this CD.

“Time After Time”

“Time After Time” is my other favorite. This song has me right from the start, with one of those delicious, slow, gorgeous grooves, and that’s even before Irma's beautiful vocals come in. This is another track that showcases her vocals talents. It’s one of those songs that you imagine coming at the end of a great and memorable night. Seriously, do yourself a favor, and listen to this one. This is such a great rendition of that classic song written by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, and is quite a bit different from the versions you’ve likely heard. And at the end she has the wild, raw power of, say, Janis Joplin. She totally owns this song.

“It’s Eleven O’Clock (Do You Know Where Your Love Is)”

“It’s Eleven O’Clock (Do You Know Where Your Love Is)” opens with a news broadcast about women (“It was Ladies Day, as the fairer sex made headlines around the world”). The title, of course, is a play on that old announcement, “It’s 10 p.m., do you know where your children are,” a line that was used at the beginning of some news casts. Irma Thomas then begins the song with the line, “The ways of a woman are mystifying.” So true. This is kind of a sillier song, and there’s even a bit of a laugh in her voice as she sings, “and maybe we ain’t.”

“Could It Be Differently”

These days, people seem to have no idea what an adverb is, and often use an adjective when an adverb is called for. So it’s interesting here to find the opposite error, and in the song’s very title. That being said, this is still an enjoyable song, with a kind of catchy groove.

"Adam And Eve"

“Adam And Eve,” the CD’s final track, is my least favorite, but I can’t help but laugh on the “ignore the snake” line in “You be Adam, I’ll be Eve/Where they failed, we’ll succeed/We'll show we've got what it takes/This time I'll ignore the snake.”

CD Track List

  1. Full Time Woman
  2. All I Wanna Do Is Save You
  3. She’s Taken My Part
  4. Shadow Of The Sun
  5. Waiting For Someone
  6. Fancy
  7. Time After Time
  8. Our Love Don’t Come That Easy
  9. Turn Around And Love You
  10. Tell Me Again
  11. Try To Be Thankful
  12. It’s Eleven O’Clock (Do You Know Where Your Love Is)
  13. Could It Be Differently
  14. A Song With No Name aka Song For Jim
  15. Adam And Eve

Full Time Woman: The Lost Cotillion Album was released on March 4, 2014 through Real Gone Music.

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