Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint
The River in Reverse
By David Chiu
It’s hard not to listen to this fruitful collaboration between Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint without Hurricane Katrina in mind. (Shortly after the hurricane, the two legendary singer/songwriters performed together several times at benefit concerts). The River in Reverse is a spiritual and soulful album that pays tribute to the vitality of New Orleans music (and to its favorite son, pianist Toussaint). It does not make direct or explicit references to the Gulf Coast disaster although they are hinted in some of the song lyrics (“How high shall we build this wall?” from “Broken Promise Land”; “Here comes the flood if you get my drift/Where the things they promised are not a gift,” from the album’s title track). One can’t feel but moved hearing the pleading and tender words by Toussaint that are emotively sung by Costello like on “Tears, Tears and More Tears” and “Freedom for the Stallion” (“Oh, Lord, you got to help us find the way”). It’s not all heartbreak on the record—there are some lean and funky hybrid of New Orleans and funk especially on “Who’s Gonna Help Brother Get Further” (one of the record’s slices of social commentary),” the slow burn of “On Your Way Down,” (featuring some signature piano runs by Toussaint) and “Six Fingered Man.” “The Sharpest Thorn” is typical Costello at his songwriting best. In the context of Katrina, if there was any truth that music does bring people together and at their best in the worst of times, this is the proof.