Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, but it couldn’t drown soul. On Tuesday night at Hill Auditorium, Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint, two legends from disparate musical backgrounds, will unite to celebrate life and music in the wake of a tragedy.
Their recent collaboration, The River in Reverse, was concocted after a series of Katrina benefit concerts where the New Orleans R&B legend and the angry young man from Liverpool performed together. Originally intended to be sort of a songbook collection, with Costello singing selections from Toussaint’s considerable catalogue, the sessions soon morphed into something entirely different when the pair realized their chemistry as co-writers.
The songs the two wrote and recorded together with the help of the Crescent City Horns and Costello’s backing band the Imposters (both bands will join them on stage) are a soulful blend of R&B, blues and funk that is undeniably an homage to New Orleans and its heritage. The record is a celebration throughout, but with the strong undertone of protest and anger directed at the leadership of America. The condemnations are subtle but damning. On “Ascension Day,” Costello sings, “Thought I heard somebody pleading / I thought I heard someone apologize / Some fell down weeping / Others shook their fists up at the skies / And those who were left / seemed to be wearing disguises.”
It’s no surprise considering the histories of the parties involved that both the music and the lyrics are heady, but never pretentious. Elvis Costello, still going strong after nearly 20 years of constant musical evolution, has to be considered one of the most influential and innovative songwriters since Bob Dylan, and he’s certainly no stranger to controversy. Originally somewhat of a pub-rocker, Costello has gone from punk with chucks to conductor with a cowboy hat, recently dabbling in classical music and country, without losing any of that trademark sneer. Known for his prolificness, Costello still can’t claim to have had a hand in a fraction of as much great music as Allen Toussaint.
Toussaint, as a songwriter, session musician, arranger, producer and solo artist, helped craft the New Orleans R&B sound – a sound that’s earthy, laid back, warm and exuberant. His songs have been covered by countless artists, and his influence has reached countless more. He launched the careers of Lee Dorsey and Irma Thomas with hits like “Get Out of my Life Woman,” “Ride Your Pony” and “Everything I do From Now on Gonh Be Funky.” His house band in the ’60s went on to become the Meters (whose albums he produced). He did arrangements for The Band, Paul Simon and Little Feat, and his own work has been critically acclaimed over the years. Basically, his resum