Costello, Toussaint Team for New Orleans CD

Elvis Costello and New Orleans piano legend Allen Toussaint have recorded a new album in New Orleans. The session is in part a symbolic effort to show the city's music industry is not dead.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Over the weekend, the rocker Elvis Costello worked to revive another New Orleans tradition.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. ELVIS COSTELLO: (Singing) What would I take in exchange for my soul? Would I notice when it was sold?

That's really good, I think.

INSKEEP: Costello and Allen Toussaint, the great New Orleans piano player, put the finishing touches on a new album. It's the first major recording session in New Orleans since Katrina. Music journalist Ashley Kahn was there.

ASHLEY KAHN reporting:

Before the hurricane, New Orleans boasted nine active recording studios. Today, two are still in business.

Unidentified Man: OK. Let's go again. I just want to hear the guitar since we'll put the accompaniment in.

(Soundbite of music)

KAHN: Piety Street Recording is a studio that's just a stone's throw from the French Quarter. It hosted the sessions with Elvis Costello and the New Orleans' own Allen Toussaint, a celebrated composer, producer and piano player famed for a 20-year string of best-selling songs.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. COSTELLO: (Singing) Nah, nah, nah.

Mr. ALLEN TOUSSAINT: I had no thoughts about recording in the very near future here. And I stayed until the water was rising and I was going to try and stick it out. There just was no home to go back to for a while, so I has to migrate to New York.

KAHN: After performing at a series of benefits in New York for hurricane relief, Costello approached Toussaint about doing an album together in New Orleans.

Mr. COSTELLO: It's very important to me if somebody's love for music doesn't cut through this city.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. COSTELLO: (Singing) Deep dark, deep dark truth of the mirror. Deep dark, deep dark truth of the mirror.

Mr. COSTELLO: And it's something else to record here. It's a really joyful spirit, and we got things here that we wouldn't have got anywhere else.

(Soundbite of recording session)

Mr. COSTELLO: (Singing) How long does a promise last? How long can a lie be told?

Unidentified Man: It sounds very...

Mr. COSTELLO: TOUSSAINT: ...(Unintelligible) between the words there, aren't I?

Unidentified Man: Well, it's just--I can't tell if you're switching back and forth trying to match the mike sounds.

Mr. COSTELLO: (Singing) How long does a promise last?

KAHN: The album features versions of some of Allen Toussaint's classic tunes, as well as newer songs written with Costello in response to the last three months.

Mr. COSTELLO: I think it would have been cheating ourselves if we had not given ourselves the opportunity to allow some of those experiences flow into the music and let the music tell us what to say.

(Soundbite of recording session)

Mr. COSTELLO: (Singing) Here comes the flood, if you catch my drift, 'cause I don't think that--(Speaking) I'm sorry. Sorry. I went to the chorus early. (Singing) You count your blessings ...(unintelligible).

KAHN: The album's selections include soft ballads and hard-driving rockers, but right now the most important part of the album lies in the fact that it's being recorded in New Orleans.

Mr. COSTELLO: If the record has any purpose at all other than just being a record of music, it's to see that when another story equally deserving of our sympathy and care and compassion comes into the news that the story here isn't forgotten and the people who have promised to solve problems are kept to their word. And if it takes singing some songs to do that, then so be it.

KAHN: At this point, this collaboration between Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint is surrounded by many questions, including what the title of the album will be and whether this gesture will have any impact beyond the symbolic. We do know the album will be released early next spring. I'm Ashley Kahn in New Orleans.

(Soundbite of recording session)

Mr. COSTELLO: (Singing) Do you see your own reflection ...(unintelligible)?

INSKEEP: Ashley Kahn is author of "Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece," and a regular voice on this program.

(Soundbite of recording session)

Mr. COSTELLO: (Singing) ...(Unintelligible) defies your mission.

INSKEEP: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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