"THE NEW RULES." Irma Thomas. Rounder. With a rich, gritty voice evocative of the unfailingly wonderful Etta James, New Orleans soul singer Irma Thomas can be counted on to wring the last drop of juice out of any old rag of a tune you toss her way. Well into mid-career, Thomas has built a reputation on 25 years of live performances and this is her first recording in 10 years. After being out of the studio for that long she kept a surprisingly cool head about her in making this LP. There's nothing flashy about the record, no gimmicks or dance-club mixes--just good songs, great singing and a snappy horn section. Thomas shines best on the title cut and a gut-wrenching essay on guilt and regret called "I Needed Somebody." It's unlikely that Thomas will turn up on MTV--nothing of much worth ever does.