For soul survivor Irma Thomas, it’s never too late to be recognized, as indicated by “Simply Grand,” due this week via Rounder. The concept was simple — pair Thomas’ voice with numerous pianists, such as longtime collaborators Dr. John, Ellis Marsalis and Henry Butler, and younger artists like Norah Jones and John Medeski.
“They all seemed to have this genuine feeling of playing along with me,” Thomas recalls. “I feel honored that that was the respect given to me — a mutual respect — and by admitting they were fans of mine, they just wanted to play. They didn’t want to be a participant in terms of vocals.”
Blues, jazz, soul and traditional R&B are present throughout “Simply Grand,” but it’s Thomas’ accomplices who are casting her voice into these different forms. “Each one is different. Isn’t that ironic?” she asks with a laugh. “Each singer has their own delivery style, and [the instrumentalists] have their own delivery style, too.”
The “Simply Grand” sessions were orchestrated by producer Scott Billington, who selected the songs and suggested the pairings. When the players and Thomas finally got together, material was put to tape quickly. “We didn’t spend a lot of time rehearsing,” she says. “When you have professional people who understand what to do and who can tell a story, it’s easy. It’s a love affair.”