Tou Plus Tou
Allen and Vincent Toussaint
(Southern Nights Publishing)
Allen Toussaint Jazzity Project
(Captivating Recording Technologies)
The two new albums from Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Allen Toussaint raise an interesting issue about the difference between the way fans and artists approach recordings. The two CDs from Toussaint find him continuing in the jazz vein that he has been exploring the last several years. Tou Plus Tou is a duet record with Allen on piano and his brother Vincent on guitar. Going Places puts Toussaint's piano with a quartet featuring Chris Severin on bass, Herman LeBeaux Jr. on drums, and Bill Solley on guitar.
That Allen Toussaint is an artist of the highest caliber cannot be disputed. Being such an artist, he has learned to trust his muse to lead him wherever it might in the quest to satisfy his artistic needs. However, this can lead to a conflict between what a listener desires to hear versus what the artist needs to express. For example, an artist may feel the need to record a CD that seems very light and New Age-like, such as Tou Plus Tou, but will this fulfill the needs of the listener? Tou Plus Tou is well recorded and well played, but it lacks the groundedness we have come to expect from Toussaint. For fans of smooth jazz, Tou Plus Tou will go into heavy rotation. For fans of Toussaint's R&B, it has a surprising lack of substance.
This conflict is less apparent on Going Places. Here Toussaint and the band dig in a little harder, and the rewards are greater. His piano work shows a lovely lyricism on the title track, and Bill Solley lays down some very tasteful solo and rhythm work. Whether it's the busy, modern jazz of "Traffic" or the more backbeat-driven "Close Up," the band gets into different grooves without overwhelming the songs or losing its step. Toussaint even revisits some of his rhythm and blues canon to jazz them up. This works particularly well with "All These Things," where the jaunty right-hand piano lines play off both the left hand and the rest of the band.
The dichotomy between the artist's and audience's interests can be fraught with peril. For more than 40 years, Allen Toussaint has bridged that gap with great success, having written and played on some of the greatest songs of the 20th century. On Tou Plus Tou, he stumbles a bit, but makes up for it with the classy jazz from a classy gentleman of Going Places. -- David Kunian
Fats Domino Sweet Patootie:
The Complete Reprise Recordings
We have long been told the Beatles destroyed the New Orleans music scene, but the Beatles worshiped New Orleans R&B and rock. Really, it was the music industry and racist politics that actually killed the New Orleans music business. It is not an accident that Fats Domino began the rock 'n' roll revival with a cover of the Beatles song most directly in his image, "Lady Madonna."
Sweet Patootie collects all of the Fats Domino sides from the Warner Brothers catalog, including the spectacular return to glory represented by the 1968 release, Fats Is Back. The album was released with great fanfare by the Warner Brothers subsidiary, Reprise -- a company that thought of Domino as both a Las Vegas showman and a rock 'n' roll icon. He recorded Fats Is Back with house producer Richard Perry, whose wide-screen, theatrical productions would become a staple of 1970s rock. The record, for instance, opens with an advanced-for-its-time collage of sampled Domino hits followed by plenty of crowd noise, a splashy intro directly reminiscent of the opening to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the industry standard for production values at the time.
Perry brought together a mixture of top Los Angeles session players, including New Orleans' own Earl Palmer on drums and James Booker on piano. (Fats only plays piano on one track, a barrelhouse remake of "I'm Ready.") The record includes impressive performances from saxophonist King Curtis, guitarist Eric Gale and label mate Randy Newman on piano.
Domino recorded "Lady Madonna" at a separate session with Larry Knechtel on keys. One can only imagine what Booker's take on the song might have sounded like, but Perry wanted the restraint of a session player on a cover that was a virtual copy of the original arrangement. Fats, who's in great voice throughout, nevertheless puts his stamp on the song. Friday night, in the Domino reading, "arrives without no suitcase," a subtle yet transformational moment in which he replaces McCartney's King's English with the double negative of an R&B poet. Another Beatles cover, "Lovely Rita," comes off as just an oddity, but Booker's "So Swell When You're Well" and a version of Barbara George's "I Know" are great. The set also includes some David Bartholomew-produced sides released only in England and several singles Domino recorded for Reprise, including a hot cover of "Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except For Me and My Monkey," Randy Newman's typically laconic "Have You Seen My Baby?" and Fats' own "New Orleans Ain't The Same."(This limited-edition CD is available online at www.rhinohandmade.com) -- John Swenson