Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Allen Toussaint

  • Toussaint [Scepter, 1971] B
  • Life, Love and Faith [Warner Bros., 1972] B+
  • Southern Nights [Warner Bros., 1975] B-
  • Motion [Warner Bros., 1978] C+
  • Connected [NYNO, 1996] Choice Cuts
  • The Bright Mississippi [Nonesuch, 2009] A-

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Toussaint [Scepter, 1971]
"Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky," announces the pianist-composer-producer-arranger behind dozens of New Orleans hits on a great cut that Lee Dorsey did even better, but lurking amid the ensuing instrumentals are Roger Williams (maybe somebody classier, but that's who it sounds like to me), "The Hallelujah Chorus," and Vince Guaraldi. Granted, on the A side Toussaint sings five excellent songs, four of which he wrote himself. But Joe Simon did better with "Chokin' Kind." And Lee Dorsey did better with "Working in a Coal Mine." B

Life, Love and Faith [Warner Bros., 1972]
Toussaint relies on overdubbing to camouflage his often colorless delivery and occasionally colorless songwriting. But if going solo stretches him thin, it also stretches him--the phasing-and-saxophone on "Goin' Down" is a producer's dream come true, "Victims of the Darkness" is recommended to Norman Whitfield, and on "Out of the City" he reminds us that in the country "the grass is greener on every side." B+

Southern Nights [Warner Bros., 1975]
Toussaint's vocals have gained confidence in a soft-sung kind of way, but I really like only two songs here, one of which has been done better by Bonnie Raitt and the other of which is called--I hesitate even to type it--"Basic Lady." You have to figure that anyone who can write a Grammy-winner for Glen Campbell might fall victim to delusions of mediocrity. B-

Motion [Warner Bros., 1978]
I've always found pleasure in Toussaint's hackwork and clucked sympathetically over his ambitious failures, but complaints about Jerry Wexler's conventional soul production here miss the point--it's Toussaint himself who aspires to conventionality. Abandoning the infectious, melody-shy chanting of his best LPs, he now sings with all the passion of James Taylor, which is probably as close to Glen Campbell as he can get. Auditioning for "Southern Nights II" there are various mild concoctions--I forget which is which, but the title tune could well be with Barry Manilow at this moment--that are not offset by several mixed successes and one reminder of eccentricities past. "Optimism Blues" indeed. C+

Connected [NYNO, 1996]
"Computer Lady" Choice Cuts

The Bright Mississippi [Nonesuch, 2009]
The weak link is the popmeister up top--Toussaint has always been the least improvisational and also the least percussive of the New Orleans piano masters. But Nicholas Payton, Don Byron, and Marc Ribot provide all the jazz he needs. Absolutely this not-quite-lite tour of New Orleans and vicinity touches down on Bechet and Morton, "St. James Infirmary" and "West End Blues." But it defines vicinity so broadly that you'll also find Beiderbecke and Reinhardt, two Ellington tunes, songs by a jazz critic and Ed Sullivan's bandleader. And bringing the album home is the not especially canonical Thelonious Monk title track, where percussiveness is a man's only option and everybody is compelled to improvise some, the percussionist included. A-