Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint - The River in Revese (Verve, 2006)

Elvis Costello is modern pop music's ultimate chameleon, bouncing from pop to country and even orchestral experiments all with the breathless enthusiasm of the newly converted. In this case he's fortunate to have an old hand guiding the way in the person of composer and producer Allen Toussaint. Costello has explored soul and funk before, but never with the conviction he shows here. Toussaint reigns in Costello's self-aggrandizement, provides some killer songs and plays piano to boot. As can be expected, the songs shake an angry fist at both man and nature in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Toussaint lost a home and friends in the disaster, and while Elvis can't claim such bona fides, he calls upon a sense of indignation that is still fresh nearly thirty years after My Aim Is True. "Who's Gonna Help A Brother" and "Tears, Tears and More Tears" provide rippling horn laden funk extolling the virtues of helping your fellow man, while "River In Reverse" takes on the flood directly, lamenting a city that will never be the same. "Freedom for the Stallion" adapts an older Toussaint song with a devastating lyric about "men making laws to destroy other men..." Costello refuses to give into the temptation to ham it up and delivers one of his most powerful performances in quite a while. There have been many songs and albums recorded about Katrina and New Orleans, but the dignity and beauty of this music makes it one of the most memorable.

Otis Rush - All Your Love I Miss Loving (Delmark, 2005)

There are a number of Otis Rush live albums in the bins these days, but this one might just take the cake, catching him before his adopted hometown audience at the Wise Fools Pub in Chicago, IL in the mid-70's. He's got a crack band on hand and an enthusiastic audience in tow for a galvanizing performance of originals and standards. One of the knocks against Rush's live albums by critics is that the soloing has occasionally gotten out of control at the expense of the band, but not here. Everyone is really tight and this context makes his guitar solos even more explosive. The album takes its name from the emotional lament "All Your Love (I Miss Loving)" that he originally cut as part of his epochal Cobra recordings in the 1950's, and the version heard here is just as haunting. He wrings every ounce of energy out of that song and another emotional ballad, "Gambler's Blues" which builds to an amazing climax. "Feeling so Bad" and "You're Breaking My Heart" bring the emotional turmoil to the boiling point, before the band lets the audience off the hook with a blasting up-tempo version of "Sweet Little Angel," originally made famous by B.B. King. This is an extraordinary document of the Chicago blues scene and one of the finest musicians to grace its stages. Highest possible recommendation.

Send comments to: Tim