A gumbo of soul, gospel and jazz from Irma Thomas, Blind Boys and Preservation Hall Legacy Quintet

Photos by Andy Argyrakis

Right before “The Heart And Soul Queen Of New Orleans” Tour rolled on to the next city, co-headliners Irma Thomas, the Blind Boys Of Alabama and the Preservation Hall Legacy Quintet all came together to for some gospel praises filled with hand claps, shout-outs and palms raised upwards. For a moment, the gorgeous and acoustically pristine Symphony Center transformed into heaven on earth, and no matter one’s religion, race or politics, everyone stood in unity over both the emotion of the moment and the fact that they were in the presence of three enduring musical institutions.

Though the Blind Boys also oozed with soul ahead of Irma Thomas, their set was more specifically centered around the sacred, but not before turning in the autobiographical title track of their new album “Almost Home” (available exclusively at shows and Amazon).

Prior to the joyous finale, the 76-year-old Thomas (who sported a massive pink bow for cancer awareness) took her turn bringing bits of the Crescent City to the Windy City, recalling soulful favorites such as “Love Don’t Change” and “Wish Someone Would Care.” In between tunes, she had the refined crowd in stitches recounting two marriages that didn’t work out and a third that did (but only because she trained him just right), all of which tied into the theme of her cheeky classic “(You Can Have My Husband But) Please Don’t Mess With My Man.”

Though the Blind Boys also oozed with soul, their set was more specifically centered around the sacred, but not before turning in the autobiographical title track of their new album “Almost Home” (available exclusively at shows and Amazon). And believe it or not, the collection does indeed include original members Jimmy Carter and Clarence Fountain (both in their eighties), alongside notable songwriters Valerie June, John Leventhal, Ruthie Foster, Marc Cohn and the North Mississippi Allstars.

Along with some younger but no less sincere support, the Gospel Music Hall of Famers also debuted “I Can See,” reminded the full house that “God Knows Everything” and then dug back to the redemptive “Amazing Grace” (cleverly arranged to “House Of The Rising Sun”). The jubilant tone jumped up another notch once the Preservation Hall Jazz Quintet joined them for a few selections, culminating with a blend of husky harmonies and shiny brass throughout “I’ll Fly Away.”

Speaking of the fellas from Preservation Hall, they also warmed up the festivities, casting their net as wide as jazz, spirituals and Cajun celebrations. It might have been the heart of a crisp autumn in Chicago, which “Basin Street Blues” assisted in reflecting, but by the time “Bourbon Street Parade” appeared, it felt like a blazing afternoon at the Mardi Gras that might even have been enough to tide over the appreciative audience until that very season rolls around.


For additional information on Irma Thomas, Blind Boys Of Alabama and Preservation Hall Legacy Quintet, visit IrmaThomas.com, BlindBoys.com and PreservationHallJazzBand.com.

For a list of upcoming shows at Symphony Center, visit CSO.org.