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Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint – The River in Reverse (2006)

Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint – The River in Reverse (2006)

Some inspired music has arrived in the wake of Hurricane Katrina (mainly on New Orleans-themed benefit albums), but nothing as audaciously ambitious as this cross-generational collaboration between Crescent City mainstay Allen Toussaint and former British upstart turned adventurously eclectic veteran Elvis Costello.

As a songwriter, producer, and arranger, Toussaint has been responsible for hits from artists ranging from Irma Thomas, Ernie K-Doe, and Lee Dorsey to the Pointer Sisters and Labelle. Costello, long a huge fan of Toussaint’s music, sings relatively familiar fare such as “On Your Way Down” and “Freedom for the Stallion” from Toussaint’s extensive songbook along with obscurities mainly recorded by Dorsey.

Toussaint supplies his distinctive piano and horn arrangements–as well as lead vocals on “Who’s Gonna Help Brother Get Further?”–with Costello’s Imposters serving as the rhythm section.

Yet the real revelation comes from the new material, including the title track (a searing Costello composition in the Toussaint soul-spiritual mode) and five new Costello/Toussaint compositions that spotlight Toussaint’s signature sound without diminishing Costello’s creative contributions. What could have been a curiosity is instead a hallmark in the catalog of each artist.

-Don McLeese

The River in Reverse is Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint’s spirited and deeply soulful new album, including seven songs from Toussaint’s remarkable catalog; five newly written by the two; and one new song, the title track, written by Costello. Sessions for the album took place over a whirlwind two weeks late last year in Hollywood, CA and at Piety Street Studios in Toussaint’s hometown of New Orleans. Produced by Joe Henry, the album masterfully combines Costello’s band the Imposters with Toussaint’s horn section (Amadee Castenell, Joe Smith, Sam Williams, and Brian Cayolle) and guitarist (Anthony Brown).
Toussaint led the ensemble from the piano, with Imposters keyboard player Steve Nieve switching to Hammond B3. The majority of the tracks were cut with the entire group in the room and Costello singing live, occasionally adding his guitar to the mix. Costello selected songs from deep within the Toussaint catalogue such as “Nearer To You,” “Freedom for the Stallion,” and “Tears, Tears and More Tears.” Toussaint kicks off the lead vocal on his composition, “Who’s Gonna Help Brother Get Further?” and trades vocal lines with Costello and bassist Davey Faragher on several other tracks.

All of the horn arrangements are marked with Toussaint’s distinctive style and, commented Costello, “add a second voice” to the title track, the one song that Costello wrote alone. Just before the recording began, the duo holed up in New York to write together throughout October, a quick-moving process that resulted in four songs on the album of various combinations of words and music.

The songwriting collaboration began with Costello writing lyrics for Toussaint’s beautiful minor key variation of Professor Longhair’s “Tipitina.” The resulting piece is now entitled “Ascension Day.” Other new titles include “The Sharpest Thorn,” “Broken Promise Land,” and “International Echo.”

Toussaint previously produced a 1983 Costello cover of Yoko Ono’s “Walking on Thin Ice” with the Attractions and the T.K.O. Horns, and also contributed piano to the New Orleans-recorded “Deep Dark Truthful Mirror” from Costello’s 1989 album Spike.

Immediately following Hurricane Katrina, Toussaint relocated to New York City, where the two renewed their musical friendship at several benefit concerts and club gigs during a seven-day period from the 17th of September, leading to discussions of this new album. The powerful song “The River in Reverse” was written by Costello on September 24th, 2005, and performed by him for the first time at that night’s “Parting the Waters” benefit event organized by the The New Yorker magazine.


1. On The Way Down
2. Nearer To You
3. Who’s Gonna Help A Brother
4. Sharpest Thorn
5. Tears
6. River In Reverse
7. Freedom For The Stallion
8. Broken Promise Land
9. Ascension Day
10. International Echo
11. All These Things
12. Wonder Woman
13. Six Fingered Man

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July 30, 2008 Posted by | Allen Toussaint, Elvis Costello, Music_Soul, _MUSIC | Leave a comment