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Soul of New Orleans: Irma Thomas – Ruler of My Heart

I remember when I was a kid this song playing on the radio. Of course, back then it was all AM, no stereo radio at the time. There was something spooky and mysterious about this song to me.

Now that I’m older, lived in other places and finally returned to New Orleans several years ago I look around and appreciate the things this city has that I think can be found nowhere else. There is an intangible otherness to this city that to me this song embodies.

You have the inimitable Irma (who after all these years finally won a Grammy in 2008) who sings this song without flair or embellishments. She delivers it simply. At the piano is Allen Toussaint who wrote the song. It sounds like he’s playing on an old upright, seems to be a little out of tune. He tickles the keys in a simple recognizable New Orleans style.

In the background you have the female chorus singing a soulful mysterious “ooooooo.” Where does this sound come from? From church, the swamps, is it the sound of the Mississippi as it rolls by, is it the breeze that wafts in from the Gulf of Mexico, is it the sound in the air of the city at night, a sound that was here before New Orleans was bulit?

There is something about this song that seems to embody the depth of the soul of the Crescent City. Listen to its simplicity. Sparse instrumentation, no reverb, the quality of the recording can’t compete with today’s standards. Yet the quality of the song shines through.

Otis Redding did a version of it called Pain in My Heart and it was a hit. But it’s not nearly as good as Irma Thomas’ original. Hers is authentic and speaks volumes of what this city is about. What this song really is about for me is how to those who love this city it is truly ruler of their heart.

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Posted in New Orleans Culture, New Orleans Music, New Orleans Videos.

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