Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint: The River In Reverse

Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint
The River In Reverse
Verve

Riddled with anguish, muted joy, and anger, Allen Toussaint and Elvis Costello's post-Katrina ode to New Orleans is equally powerful as tribute and political rant. Toussaint and Costello are a peculiar pair, but the debonair New Orleans renaissance hitmaker and the acidic, chameleon-like Brit rocker deftly integrate their sensibilities in the Crescent City's crucible, while Costello's Imposters absorb the funkified flair of Toussaint's horn section. Here the duo dust off seven relatively obscure Toussaint nuggets. Costello nails the most familiar, "Freedom for the Stallion" (an elegiac call for social justice), with supple vocals. Costello's singing throughout is marvelous, mixing prickly angst with a deep reservoir of Celtic soul, regrettable only for relegating the wondrous Toussaint to a single lead. Together, they underscore the poignant slew of fresh connotations Toussaint's decades-old tunes acquired in the hurricane's wake. "Nearer to You," one of several with a gospel flavor, has an entirely new dimension with thousands still displaced by the flood, while "Tears, Tears and More Tears" is soggily self-explanatory.

Five new, co-written songs (lyrics mostly by Costello) are more oblique but zero in on specific targets. "Broken Promise Land" references Bush's empty pledge in Jackson Square. Costello turns back the simmering title track's torrent with a sneer, lambasting those who "govern with money and superstition." Toussaint's elegant piano unveils the album's emotional core in "Ascension Day," a stunning minor-key reworking of Professor Longhair's iconic "Tipitina," where Costello paints Katrina's surreal aftermath with new lyrics offering a sliver of hope along with a potential epitaph. With vast sections of New Orleans still ghostly landscapes of gutted houses, the tortured eloquence of this collaboration echoes a line both men used in their solo pasts: "from a whisper to a scream."

 
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