This Bitter Earth was a hit for Dinah Washington some fifty-plus years ago, and gets a smoky nightclub style treatment here with elegant but quite restrained backing from Ellis Marsalis and delicate upright bass and hi-hat action on the drums, and it’s a similar story when David Torkanowsky returns for Cold Rain (he’d provided the piano part for the Bacharach number) the combination works much better than it did earlier as Irma meditates on the cleansing that follows a storm.

Allen Toussaint wrote Somebody Told You and Irma recorded it way back in 1962, but this time it’s John Medeski rather than Toussaint providing the backing while Thomas testifies. Overrated features Davell Crawford on an R&B ballad that’s rather soft around the edges and in danger of attracting smart-arsed references to the title. Along with What Can I Do, it’s one of the weaker tracks on an album that’s pretty consistent otherwise. There’s a more spartan turn around the eighty-eights from Marcia Ball on Don Nix’s Same Old Blues, though there’s a gospelly twist there that definitely ain’t the same old barrelhouse variety.

But the album’s highlight comes when Randy Newman slips onto the stool in front of the keyboard for I Think It's Going to Rain Today. Newman’s bleak vision, with hope and desolation presented as opposite sides of the same coin makes for a moving meditation in the aftermath of a disaster, and Thomas’ understated vocal delivers a poignant combination of heartbreak and vulnerable dignity. Stunning.

And, when you look at the title, the title says it all. Simple, slightly modified to fit grammatical requirements and grand, as in piano, and also as in the dictionary definitions. 

Take your pick from:

  • magnificent and imposing in appearance, size, or style
  • of high rank and with an appearance and manner appropriate to it
  • used … to suggest size or splendour
  • of the highest rank
  • very good or enjoyable; excellent

all of which are taken from the Dictionary app on my Mac (which, in turn, is taken from the New Oxford American Dictionary, so we're talking authoritative here, folks.

Authoritative. That's another descriptor that fits like a glove...

© Ian Hughes 2012