Search This Blog

Monday, October 9, 2017

Allen Toussaint: The Wild Sound Of New Orleans


1) Whirlaway; 2) Up The Creek; 3) Tim Tam; 4) Me And You; 5) Bono; 6) Java; 7) Happy Times; 8) Wham Tousan; 9) Nowhere To Go; 10) Nashua; 11) Po Boy Walk; 12) Pelican Parade; 13*) Chico; 14*) Sweetie Pie (Twenty Years Later); 15*) Back Home Again In Indiana; 16*) Naomi.

Most people only come across the name «Allen Toussaint» in parentheses — credited for such well-known hits as ʽFortune Tellerʼ and ʽI Like It Like Thatʼ (and even then, it is not always obvious, since some of them were officially credited to «Naomi Neville», so that the royalties could generously go to the man's parents). Those who are somewhat more interested in the cultu­ral life of New Orleans after the rock revolution know his solo LPs, a small, but steady stream of which only began to emerge in the early 1970s. But I'm pretty sure that very few have ever heard the one and only solo record that he cut in 1958 — young, beardless, suit-and-tied, and still going by the moniker of «Al Tousan».

Which is, frankly, a shame, because believe you me, this is one of those cases where the lauda­tory title does not lie — The Wild Sound Of New Orleans, in this instance, does indeed trans­late to «that particular type of sound from New Orleans that can be really wild», rather than «this is the way they all sound in New Orleans, and we're calling it ʽwildʼ because it's, like, wild, man! Wild — good word, that! Could be ʽgroovyʼ, but we didn't have space for two more letters on that sleeve». Although the entire album consists of nothing but instrumentals, and even though most of those instrumentals begin to sound pretty samey after a while, this is far closer in spirit to truly rebellious rock'n'roll than any of its spiritual predecessors, from Amos Milburn all the way up to even Fats Domino.

Some part of it belongs to Toussaint's backing band, including Domino's baritone sax player Alvin "Red" Tyler, and bombastic drummer Charles "Hungry" Williams, both of whom raise so much hell on the faster numbers here that it is a wonder how the flimsy walls of New Orleanian studios never fell apart during any of them. It almost feels as if they were so completely happy to get this chance to emerge from the shadow of Fats Domino as a frontman and develop their own grooves instead of having to humbly support the pop melodies of Domino / Bartholomew, that they really went wild all the way: just throw on the opening ʽWhirlawayʼ and be ready to ack­nowledge that few compositions from the early rock era can match this in energy, tightness, and pure, dizzy, giddy fun.

The main culprit, however, is Toussaint himself, who, at 20 years old, was already a fine rival to Fats — actually, his chief inspiration was not so much the straightforwardly boogie-oriented Domino as the somewhat more sophisticated Professor Longhair, from whom he'd learnt some of the quirky New Orleanian flourishes; but Professor Longhair, as befits a Professor, was far more restrained and never let his hair down as much as Toussaint lets down his (figuratively speaking, that is: they didn't call him Longhair for nothing, while Toussaint's growth never went beyond the usual curly style). Anyway, Toussaint is unquestionably the primary hero of ʽWhirlawayʼ — he knows that the perfect way to handle a boogie is not to let the listener hang loose for even one second, and he has a speedy, breathless way of keeping it up that probably does not resonate with the punkish fever of a Jerry Lee Lewis, but he also spends far less time banging his thumbs against the same two keys than Jerry does — a trick that might quickly get irritating if you did this twelve times in a row on an instrumental album. He does have his trademark tricks that crop up repeatedly, but that is more so that you recognize the sound than because he is running out of ideas. And when he does begin to run out of ideas, he knows exactly where to cede the spotlight to the sax player for a few bars.

Not all of the album consists of fast boogie numbers: some are relaxedly mid-tempo, including what is arguably the best-known composition here — ʽJavaʼ (the spirit of which would later be brilliantly conveyed by the Muppet Show sketch); others can even be slow, like the blues shuffle ʽPo' Boy Walkʼ, with an odd «buzzing» electric guitar lead part for a change, or the country waltz ʽUp The Creekʼ. In fact, despite the similarity of arrangements creating the illusion of mono­tonousness, Toussaint runs through a pretty impressive set of styles: rock'n'roll, blues, country, gospel-soul (ʽHappy Timesʼ), top-hat vaudeville (ʽMe And Youʼ), and flat-out Mardi Gras an­thems (ʽBonoʼ; ʽNashuaʼ, semi-quoting ʽWhen The Saints Go Marching Inʼ). And my personal favorite was not even on the original album in the first place: the bonus track ʽChicoʼ, although it spends much of its time on mariachi sax solos, has an awesome piano lick («ringing doorbell») that I do not think I have even heard before on any other song.

Bottomline is: The Wild Sound Of New Orleans is a wonderful record that, sadly, could pro­bably not avoid falling through the cracks — as a «pop» album, it could never be popular due to the lack of vocals, and as a «serious» album, it was way too much oriented at the pure entertain­ment sector. But surely this type of music has to have its own niche, too, so let this thumbs up rating be a small contribution to the Allen Toussaint Preservation Society.

No comments:

Post a Comment