Music Review: Allen Toussaint, American Tunes

By Tony Nielsen

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Somewhere out there is a special table reserved as the top table for New Orleans pianists, all of them names you'll probably recognise - Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, James Booker, Doctor John, Harry Connick Junior and, especially, Allen Toussaint.

Toussaint's death last November was a cruel blow to the New Orleans music fraternity as his contribution over many decades, but particularly the 60s and 70s , is without peer.

As a songwriter he was legendary; as a recording studio sideman he was incomparable; as a performer in his own right, equally impressive.

Fortunately, following the success of his 2009 album The Bright Mississippi, producer Joe Henry set up further sessions for what was to be a farewell album.

With a generous 14 tracks American Tunes (an extra three tracks are on the vinyl release), named after the Paul Simon song he covers, finds Allen Toussaint in excellent form.

Solo numbers were recorded at his New Orleans home in 2013, and with a stellar band in Los Angeles in 2015.

Toussaint's style is very accessible, he seems to pluck memorable melodies out of thin air.

On this album he's selected Delores Boyfriend and Southern Nights from his own deep catalogue of originals, and pays tribute to the likes of Professor Longhair, Fats Waller, Bill Evans, Duke Ellington and Paul Simon.

Rhiannon Giddens guest vocals on Ellington's Come Sunday and Rocks in my Bed, while Van Dykes plays second piano on Southern Nights.

Mostly though its Allen Toussaint doing what he does best, whether he's playing his own compositions or others, creating a jaunty, melodic approach to classic tunes.

Rating: 5/5 stars.

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