The 1970s were lost years for Irma Thomas
in some respects. She was wholly out of the commercial mainstream and, sometimes, without a recording contract. Nor had she yet carved out her well-deserved niche as a torchbearer of the New Orleans vocal soul tradition. Instead, she was only able to grab some recording time and record releases here and there, usually on small labels. While this 19-song CD, A Woman's Viewpoint: The Essential 1970s Recordings
, is probably about as good a compilation as can be assembled from this period, there's no getting around the realization that this is far from her best work on record. The biggest chunk of the disc (though less than half of it) is devoted to her 1973 Swamp Dogg
-produced album In Between Tears
, on which Swamp Dogg
(aka Jerry Williams, Jr.
) also wrote much of the material. It's adequate early-'70s soul, well-sung but lacking in as much personality as Thomas
' best recordings, perhaps because Swamp Dogg
had such a strong role. "These Four Walls," with its soaring dignity and strange fishbowl-bubble guitar, is an exception, perhaps because it was written by someone other than Swamp Dogg
, and was actually taken from a 1970 single. The 12-minute "Coming from Behind"/"Wish Someone Would Care" also has to count as a highlight for its long spoken rap, even if that's not characteristic of Thomas
' style. Filling out the CD are a lot of hard-to-find cuts, including a couple fair, 1970 45 rpms for the Canyon label, and a couple of relatively poppy rarities done for the Scepter/Wand label (actually in the late 1960s, not the 1970s). The half-dozen late-'70s tracks done for the RCS label that close the disc are erratic; the worst of them have unsuitably stiff modernized production, though some hints of her longing, trademark New Orleans soul are heard in "Zero Willpower" and the Dan Penn
-penned "A Woman Left Lonely." The live '77 "Don't Blame Him for What You Didn't Do" is the most New Orleans-sounding track here, but suffers from substandard fidelity, complete with tape defects that make parts of it sound like a warped record.