Varese Vintage (302 066 832 2)
The centerpiece of this 1971 self-titled Allen Toussaint LP is an ironic little number called ?What is Success.? The lyrics touch on nearly every aspect of the quest for balance in an artistic life.
Toussaint talks about internal doubts, external trappings, and most importantly, the sad reality of art as a marketplace. Like much of Toussaint?s work, ?What is Success? is both intelligent and catchy, driven by a solid soul groove.
The questions and concerns expressed in ?Success? were also extremely relevant to Toussaint at the time. As the author of such classics as ?Working in the Coal Mine,? ?Ride the Pony,? and ?Everything I Do Gohn Be Funky (From Now On),? Toussaint often found his songs outdistancing his name for public recognition. Lots of folks knew Lee Dorsey as the man who sang these songs, but few realized a man named Allen Toussaint was the producer, writer, and arranger behind the scenes.
Toussaint reclaims ?Coal Mine? and ?Funky? on this album, and while he doesn?t deliver them with the same theatricality as Dorsey, his vocals do carry the weight of sincerity. Every line seems to come straight from the heart, and the overall effect is incredibly powerful.
The track ?From a Whisper to a Scream? is equally intense. Toussaint is shaking his head in pain at the reality that he has driven his lover into the arms of another man. His tender and moving arrangement underscores each emotional turn in the lyrics, as he admits to himself that he bears some of the blame.
With the original instrumentals ?Pickles,? ?Louie,? and ?Either,? Toussaint displays his talent for telling incredible stories without words. ?Pickles? in particular is a kick, starting out as an infectious funky blues groove, and then suddenly breaking into a beautiful and expansive piano solo.
Contrast and contradiction are Toussaint?s stock in trade. He seems to love playing with expectations, mixing his myriad musical influences in unexpected ways. While this record is overall a soul affair, Toussaint also tosses in equal amounts of jazz, blues, country, and whatever else suits his fancy.
His take on Vince Guaraldi?s ?Cast Your Fate to the Wind? is a prime example. He embraces the straighter aspects of the original arrangement, and then heads out into a funky interpretation that is uniquely Toussaint.
The two bonus tracks on this reissue, both instrumentals, also underscore Toussaint?s versatility. ?Number Nine? has a bright, almost poppy sound that is irresistible. The previously unreleased ?Poor Folks? takes a bit of piano blues from Toussaint?s native New Orleans, then steps up to a funky place, peppering jazz throughout.
Although this album was not a commercial success in its time, it is a marvelous portrait of a great artist presenting his own work in the way he wants it to be heard.