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Music Review: 'American Tunes,' Allen Toussaint

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Music Review: 'American Tunes,' Allen Toussaint

Music Reviews

Music Review: 'American Tunes,' Allen Toussaint

Music Review: 'American Tunes,' Allen Toussaint

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NPR reviews the posthumous release from New Orleans pianist Allen Toussaint, American Tunes.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

When New Orleans musician Allen Toussaint died last year, he was almost finished with a multi-year project. He was recording intimate renditions of songs he loved. Reviewer Tom Moon says the result, titled "American Tunes," is an elegant new perspective on Toussaint's legacy.

TOM MOON, BYLINE: Allen Toussaint produced wickedly funky records by LaBelle, The Meters and others. But when he sat at the piano, he gravitated towards a completely different sound - music informed by a sly sophistication.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALLEN TOUSSAINT SONG, "MARDI GRAS IN NEW ORLEANS")

MOON: That's his take on a song by his first idol, Professor Longhair. Toussaint doesn't mess with the flamboyant scampering runs that define New Orleans piano. Instead he changes the harmony and finds some new melancholy within the melody.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALLEN TOUSSAINT SONG, "MARDI GRAS IN NEW ORLEANS")

MOON: Another highlight - Toussaint's idyllic "Southern Nights" reimagined as a two piano fantasy with Van Dyke Parks.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALLEN TOUSSAINT SONG, "SOUTHERN NIGHTS")

MOON: There's history here. In the early '70s when Van Dyke Parks was a staff producer for Reprise Records, he was dispatched to New Orleans to prod Toussaint to finish his second solo album. The artist only needed one more song, but he was in the grip of writer's block. Parks advised him to imagine what he'd write if he was told he had two weeks to live. That did the trick. Within a few days, out came this song.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALLEN TOUSSAINT SONG, "SOUTHERN NIGHTS")

MOON: The new album closes with the only Allen Toussaint vocal, Paul Simon's "American Tune."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMERICAN TUNE")

ALLEN TOUSSAINT: (Singing) I dreamed I was flying high up above my eyes, could clearly see the Statue of Liberty sailing away to the sea. I dreamed I was flying.

MOON: It's a straight read, nothing fancy. He sings it the same way he plays piano - gracefully, using understatement to devastating effect. That kind of poise is easy to overlook. But it's crucial to just about everything on this delightful survey of "American Tunes," and it's one of the qualities that made Allen Toussaint an American treasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMERICAN TUNE")

TOUSSAINT: (Singing) It's all right. It's all right. It's all right. You can't be forever blessed.

MCEVERS: Tom Moon reviewed the posthumous release from Allen Toussaint, "American Tunes."

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