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Monday, October 23, 2017

Allen Toussaint: Life, Love And Faith


1) Victims Of The Darkness; 2) Am I Expecting Too Much?; 3) My Baby Is The Real Thing; 4) Goin' Down; 5) She Once Belonged To Me; 6) Out Of The City; 7) Soul Sister; 8) Fingers And Toes; 9) I've Got To Convince Myself; 10) On Your Way Down; 11) Gone Too Far; 12) Electricity.

The formula of Toussaint stays in full force for this follow-up, another collection of pleasant, low-key, restrained soul and funk grooves with his New Orleanian flavor. The biggest difference is that all the numbers are vocal this time, and everything is allegedly composed by Toussaint himself, so you might as well call this a «singer-songwriter» record, except that this term is very rarely applied to groove-dependent collections of tunes — this is, after all, «body music» first and «mind music» second, much as some people would like to convince us that there is no clear-cut distinction between the two (and I agree with the «clear-cut» bit).

On a couple of these numbers, Toussaint actually goes as far as to add a tint of menace to the sound: ʽOut Of The Cityʼ, in particular, is a gritty standout, with a threatening guitar riff and a subtle social undercurrent, symbolized in its "I don't wanna run no more" chorus, distorted through something like a Leslie cabinet — although Allen's vocals are so naturally friendly that he is unable to properly capitalize upon the menace and despair potential of the song. There's also ʽVictims Of The Darknessʼ, a sort of a warning song against, well, all sorts of evil in general, but it does indeed play out as a warning — subtly suspenseful, with mildly disturbing syncopation, never spilling out into anything truly moving.

On the whole, though, the songs rarely depart from standard love-and-heartbreak topics, are no­where near the level of catchiness of Allen's Sixties' hits, and rarely feature any outstanding mu­sicianship — the best I can say is that the album never gets proverbially «dull» due to the overall number of styles: there's happy, up-tempo R&B (ʽAm I Expecting Too Much?ʼ), mid-tempo swampy funk (ʽGoin' Downʼ), passionate, tempestuous soul balladry (ʽShe Once Belonged To Meʼ), and... well, maybe it's not so much about the actual genres as it is about the instrumental diversity, with some songs being more driven by brass, some by piano and organ, some by guitar, and some by everything at once.

But it is easy to see why an album like this could be entirely overlooked in the era of Stevie Wonder, Al Greene, and Curtis Mayfield — like its predecessor, this is an album that you turn to only at the stage when you are tired of genius, and intentionally want to go for something that would be very much middle-of-the-road: 100% tasteful, directly unassailable from any position, but also completely unremarkable in any possible aspect. Essentially, there is nothing I can say about any of these songs that would make a difference.

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