Irma Thomas, Simply the Best: Live! (Rounder Records)

I generally don’t like live recordings. Simply The Best is an exception. It is a straightforward recording of the Soul Queen of New Orleans doing her thing with her own crack stage band. Without the “gotta find a hit” sound of her early sides, this disc is carried as much by Thomas’ joyous personality as her great pipes. In other words, you can hear Thomas getting into it. She does some of her hits, including a rare live performance of “Time Is On My Side” and an off-the-cuff “Hittin’ On Nothing.” There is also a commanding medley of “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” and “Please Please Please.” Thomas has never developed the cult following of the Neville Brothers, and can even perform regularly on Sunday nights at her own Mid-City night club in front of thirty or forty friends and fans without creating a stir. This disc, recorded at Slim’s in San Francisco, has a lot of the same feeling in it you get when she quits dishing out free red beans and hops on the stage at the Lion’s Den.