The legacy of Allen Toussaint is an intact one. Centred in New Orleans, this man performed a variety of tasks that brought R&B music in various forms to our ears and hearts. He wrote many songs – many of them covered by other artists – and even assisted The Band on their Cahoots album. Toussaint created a small handful of albums including a current collaboration with Elvis Costello called The River in Reverse. One of those albums, the self-titled Allen Toussaint from 1971, is the subject of this review.
This Varese Sarabande offshoot reissue on Varese Vintage, is an expanded and remastered version of the original released by Scepter Records as Toussaint. This collection of instrumentals and vocal songs, many of them singles including the Lee Dorsey/Allen Toussaint collaborative tune, “Working in a Coal Mine,” a song covered by many - Even Devo did a memorable New Wave version of this classic, a testament to the durability of Toussaint and his works – were piano and horn dominated (a Toussaint strong-point) and funky R&B.
The remastering on this album is well done with the sounds clear and prominent. The bonus tracks included are “Number Nine,” an instrumental written by Toussaint and previously unreleased in the US. It is typical Toussaint music just as heard on the album’s “Pickle,” and “Louie,” both also instrumentals. The second bonus cut, “Poor Folks” is a previously unreleased, jazz-like piano instrumental, recorded in 1970, which picks up with horns and R&B and is an excellent end to the album. The album reissue is capped by a 4-page booklet with notes from Billy Vera.
Toussaint may not have been the album that Scepter Records wanted it to be but the songs on it, including “Working in a Coal Mine” have weathered the years quite nicely. The album’s opener, “From a Whisper to a Scream” employs the sound of updated R&B that would soon be heard more prevalently, a funkiness if you will. It has also been extensively covered. Other notable covers of Toussaint-written songs include “Southern Nights,” popularized by Glen Campbell, “Holy Cow” (The Band), and “Brickyard Blues” (3 Dog Night) to name a few; there were many more.
Allen Toussaint is definitely a better songwriter than he was a recording artist or even an interpreter of his own songs but his music is not to be dismissed. Their southern R&B, New Orleans flavour still flows through the soul like old-fashioned honey – sweet to the taste, thick and enjoyable, a treat to be savored.