“In Between Tears” by Irma Thomas - album review

features in: Album Chart of 1973Album Chart of the Decade: 1970s

TJR says

The coming together of Irma Thomas with Swamp Dogg was a mouth-watering proposition on paper – and the results were an artistic triumph, soured only for the participants by the back-story and the lack of praise, glory and fortune that was undoubtedly merited. Frozen-out of the biz on account of her determination not to be mistreated by chancers, Irma’s musical activity was extremely low-key by the end of the 1960s, an absolute travesty for one of the mightiest soul singers that ever recorded. In 1969, she was persuaded to have another go at Wally Roker’s new indie label, Canyon Records. To get the best out of her, Wally put the call out to Jerry ‘Swamp Dogg’ Williams, a maverick songwriter, musician and producer, but one who knew exactly how to deal the cards. Dogg’s recent long-player with Doris Duke had solidified his credentials, lest there be any doubt. Irma remarked: “He was one weird dude, but he knew how to take care of business”.

These sessions were recorded in Macon, Georgia in 1970, pretty much with the same crew who had played on Doris Duke’s “I’m A Loser” in the previous year, and Swamp Dogg’s own “Total Destruction To Your Mind” earlier in the same year. In other words, these were ace soulsters through and through – the real deal. Tragically, Canyon were declared bankrupt before the planned Irma Thomas album could be released – yet another bitter blow for our leading lady. Ever the entrepreneur, Williams managed to work a deal with Roker, and the master tapes were now under his full control. Eventually in 1973, the master hustler managed to get some degree of backing for his own new label, Fungus Records, and he was able to get Irma’s album out there, albeit in a low-key manner. However, without a promotional budget and major distribution network, he was up against it at every turn. Irma’s career was in the doldrums at this time – an outrageous state of affairs considering she was in her prime. She would later lament: “At this point I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll never have another national hit. You’ve just got to have big bucks. It’s been my luck to be with [either] a small company that can’t promote, or a big company that won’t promote.

She’ll Never Be Your Wife” is an early highlight, as Irma stands strong in the face of a no-good divorce-seeking cheater – she ain’t signing no papers! She strawwng! “These Four Walls” is the only song on the LP which had previously seen the light of the day, having been issued as a last-hope, last-gasp 45 in 1970 for Wally Roker. Irma’s gut-kicking vocal is superb – this time she plays the part of the single-room low-budget mistress – I’m shocked! The one constant is the empathy and feeling that she manages to convey on behalf of these characters. The recurring theme of relationship quandaries takes another twist on “What’s So Wrong With You Loving Me?”; this time it’s an unfaithful couple, both of whom are already married. The production is epic, with a big rolling tympani drum which wouldn’t be out of place in a glitzy Elvis stage production. “You’re The Dog (I Do The Barking Myself)” finds Irma irritated with a lazy good-for-nothing who won’t pull his weight: “that wasn’t the deal when I said I will”. Once again, Dogg’s group are ace, extremely cool on the mid-tempo bass-led rhythm and sharp on the horns – this is music you can strut to. And then we come to the pièce de résistance: “Coming From Behind (Monologue) / Wish Someone Would Care”, as Irma revisits her self-penned 1964 classic and, encouraged and prompted by Swamp Dogg, extends the piece into a 12-minute stream-of-consciousness drama-thon where Irma runs through a full range of emotions; she’s heartbroken, but she remains defiant. This is classic Irma default mode. The album closes triumphantly and hopefully with “Turn My World Around”, an upbeat stormer full of passion and vitality, with strings, horns and rhythm section erupting in a blaze of glory, supporting Irma’s desire to find her place back in the sun. It’s devastatingly short at only 2 minutes. That crafty Dogg, he always leaves you wanting more ; - )

The Jukebox Rebel

A1 [02:37] 6.5.png Irma Thomas - In Between Tears (Jerry Williams Jr., Troy Davis) Soul
A2 [02:56] 8.1.png Irma Thomas - She’ll Never Be Your Wife (Jerry Williams Jr.) Soul
A3 [03:10] 7.0.png Irma Thomas - These Four Walls (Lynn Farr) Soul
A4 [02:21] 6.6.png Irma Thomas - What’s So Wrong With You Loving Me? (Jerry Williams Jr., Charlie Whitehead) Soul
A5 [03:01] 7.2.png Irma Thomas - You’re The Dog (I Do The Barking Myself) (Jerry Williams Jr., Charlie Whitehead, Gary Bonds) Soul
B1 [12:30] 9.0.png Irma Thomas - Medley: Coming From Behind (Monologue), Wish Someone Would Care (Jerry Williams Jr. - Irma Thomas) Soul
B2 [02:04] 8.4.png Irma Thomas - Turn My World Around (Jerry Williams Jr., Charlie Whitehead) Soul

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