Release Date: Jun 6, 2006
Record label: Verve Forecast
Genre(s): Rock, R&B, Soul
This undercurrent of protest gives The River in Reverse thematic cohesion -- and as politically minded pop goes, it trumps such other 2006 albums as Neil Young's Living with War, if only because it isn't so heavy-handed about its intentions -- but what makes the album rather extraordinary is that it's as much celebration as it is protest. There is joy and tenderness within the performances of Toussaint, Costello, his backing band the Imposters, and Toussaint mainstays the Crescent City Horns, all captured by Joe Henry's clean yet warm production. If Costello pushes his phrasing a little harder than most interpreters of Toussaint -- not only does Allen himself have an easy, casual delivery, but so did such singers as Lee Dorsey, Aaron Neville, Ernie K-Doe, and Lowell George -- it suits the spirit of when the album was recorded, and Elvis is balanced about by the earthy, natural sound of the band, and Allen's graceful harmonies.
Though New Orleans R&B traditionally has a wiggle in its walk, here its good humour is tempered by a smouldering sense of grievance, for obvious reasons. But first, a technical note: this album is best heard through audio equipment tweaked to suppress the excesses of Elvis Costello's strained bleat. Can't he hear that his singing is not what it was? Unadjusted, it's the elephant in the room of a very fine album, in which the genre-hopper teams up with veteran New Orleans songsmith, producer and pianist extraordinaire Allen Toussaint.