Today marks the release of the late Allen Toussaint’s follow-up to his Joe Henry-produced 2009 album The Bright Mississippi. By now, you’ve read how the recording of American Tunes preceded Toussaint’s untimely passing by only a couple of weeks. And Joe himself has indicated in interviews how Toussaint very nearly backed out of those final sessions.
Which is to say that American Tunes is not merely a wonderful record – which it certainly is – but also a great blessing, allowing us to hear Allen Toussaint’s tremendous talent represented one last time.
So please enjoy this affecting review of American Tunes by our good friend and exceptional writer, Josh Hurst.
With all of the excitement surrounding Nowhere Else Fest, let’s not forget that Allen Toussaint’s final album of recordings American Tunes will be released on June 10. You can listen to the whole thing over at NPR Music.
I had the chance to hear it in its entirety over the weekend, and I can tell you it is a worthy successor to The Bright Mississippi but also very much its own thing. Toussaint’s death was a shock to all, but it is substantial comfort to hear the master one last time.
Nonesuch has posted a lovely essay by Michael Hill detailing the making of Allen Toussaint’s final album, American Tunes. You can read several excerpts from the liner notes, including quotes by album producer Joe Henry.
Chely Wright’s new album I Am The Rainwill be released in September.
Canadian singer-songwriter Rose Cousins has recorded a new record with JH and will be released later this year (you can pre-order the record from her website to receive it sometime prior the official release).
JH will open for Rhiannon Giddens at her date this summer at Prospect ParkBandshell as part of the Celebrate Brooklyn! series (announcement on May 10). (UPDATE: Sorry, this was from 2015 – my mistake. But if you are going to be in the NYC area in July, why not check this out?)
And speaking of Ribot, as you may recall, he and JH performed as a duo at the recent Big Ears Festival in Knoxville (read Josh Hurst’s review of the show here). You can watch much of the performance on YouTube in four parts (see below).
If there was a silver lining to the sudden passing of Allen Toussaint late last year, it was the news that he had just completed a record with producer Joe Henry. Toussaint was deeply connected to Joe Henry for the last decade of his life, with the two collaborating on multiple projects including The River In Reversewith Elvis Costello and Toussaint’s own late-period masterpiece The Bright Mississippi.
Now comes word that Nonesuch will release their final collaboration, American Tunes, on June 10. This long-gestating project includes Toussaint’s take on songs by many New Orleans and American song giants, such as Professor Longhair, Duke Ellington and Paul Simon. The record is anchored by the rhythm section of Jay Bellerose and David Piltch, with Greg Leisz, Charles Lloyd, Rhiannon Giddens, Bill Frisell and Van Dyke Parks. The album was recorded during two sessions: the first in New Orleans in 2013 and the second in Los Angeles in October, 2015.
In stunning news, Allen Toussaint has passed away from a heart attack, following a concert performance in Spain. Tributes are pouring in all over the internet, but I suppose you could start with this one from The Atlantic’s David A. Graham.
JH has not yet added his voice to the chorus of remembrances, but when he does, one can imagine that it will be the most essential of reading.
There is at least one bit of silver lining to this sad news: Toussaint completed a recording project a few weeks ago, helmed by JH. In his Facebook post, engineer Ryan Freeland notes that he is beginning to mix the project today. So it would appear that we will be treated to at least one final project from Toussaint and a long-awaited reuniting of Toussaint with Joe Henry as producer.
Well, it’s not the news any of us were hoping for, but it’s hopeful news nonetheless. Drowned In Sound interviewed the legendary Allen Toussaint, and he had this to say about his follow-up to The Bright Mississippi:
DiS: Your last studio album The Bright Mississippi came out five years ago. Are there any plans to record a follow-up? Is your writing still as prolific now as it was when you first started out fifty-five years ago?
Allen Toussaint: Oh yes, I’m writing a lot but I must say I’ve fallen way back on the project with Joe Henry who produced The Bright Mississippi. He’s been after me to record the follow-up for a couple of years now. I’ve gone in and done a few songs for him but I have so many things on the back burner. I put everything before my own product. I’ve really been lax about doing my own projects but Joe Henry is producing my next record. However it will be quite different to The Bright Mississippi. It won’t just be golden standards. Instead it will be more off the beaten path.
DiS: Is there a projected release date for the album?
Allen Toussaint: Well, if it was left up to Joe (Henry) it would have been two years ago! I’m going to try and continue working on it after the New Orleans Jazz Festival. That lasts a fortnight and falls over the last week in April and first week in May. After that, I am planning to return to the Joe Henry project as I think it would be the proper thing to do.
Here’s to that! You can read the full interview here.