Allen Toussaint

Southern Nights (Reprise '75) Rating: A-
A supremely talented songwriter, producer, piano player, singer, and arranger, this legendary mover and shaker is synonymous with a funky brand of New Orleans-based r&b, having worked with a who's who assortment of artists, including Lee Dorsey, The Meters, Dr. John, The Band, LaBelle, Paul Simon, and Little Feat, among many, many others. Although best known as a behind the scenes operator, Toussaint has also released a handful of solo albums over the years, and though Southern Nights isn't easy to come by these days it's well worth seeking out. Groovy mid-tempo funk numbers like "Last Train" and "Country John" are very Band-ish, while the rolling piano and syncopated drum patterns of "Worldwide" are typical Toussaint. "Back In My Baby's Arms" is a definite album highlight, being a soulful ballad with a gospel flavor, and though "Basic Lady" is perhaps a tad too basic (it's repetitive as hell), it's also quite catchy, and the title track is a real gem. Actually, by the time we get to the proper version of the song we've already heard snippets (sometimes more) of it throughout the album, as Toussaint I guess wanted to provide linkages to make this some sort of concept album. The "concept" doesn't really work and it doesn't really matter, as the trippy, ethereal song is quite lovely and holds up well over repeat listens. Glen Campbell liked it enough to score his own big hit with it, and Boz Scaggs, Bonnie Raitt, and Lowell George all later covered "What Do You Want The Girl To Do?," a classy soft soul song that showcases Toussaint's smooth, easy going, extremely appealing vocals. Low-key songs such as "You Will Not Lose" and "When The Party's Over" are also modestly enjoyable, and the album on the whole is always melodic, generally laid back, and frequently funky and singable. "Cruel Way To Go Down," a slow, smoky ballad with some sultry saxophone, closes the curtain on this unjustly forgotten but consistently entertaining album, though commercially it lacked the overall excitement and distinctiveness necessary to separate itself from the pack.

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