With You In Mind — The Songs of Allen Toussaint
(Mascot Label Group/Cool Green)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
New Orleans music is all about rhythm. So it’s no surprise that a drummer would front a tribute to one of that city’s great (some would argue greatest) songwriters.
Working with his long time trio, Moore, on leave as full time sticksman behind Galactic, is joined by his longtime piano and bass accompanists but adds New Orleans notables such as Trombone Shorty, Cyril Neville, saxist Skerik, percussion wiz Mike Dillon and Bonerama’s trombone frontmen, among others, for a jazz/blues/funk workout that, at ten tracks, only scratches the surface of Toussaint’s 50-plus year catalog of classics.
To his credit, not only does drummer Moore stay generally in the background, but his group digs deep into Toussaint’s songbook, excavating hidden gems and lesser known tracks. He radically rearranges the disc’s biggest hit “Southern Nights,” a chart topper for Glen Campbell, by tacking on a peculiar opening poem and expanding it to more than seven minutes with a Ray Charles-inspired instrumental version of the melody featuring trumpeter/keyboardist Nicholas Payton.
The rhythm kicks off this disc in fine fashion with the deep funk of “Here Come The Girls,” originally done by Ernie K. Doe, augmented by a full horn section and soulful female (what else?) backing vocals. It continues with the heavy groove of “Life,” “Night People” (with an alto solo from James Brown longtime horn man Maceo Parker), and the self-explanatory “Everything I Do Gohn Be Funky (From Now On),” a moderate hit for Lee Dorsey. The album’s tone shifts to New Orleans second line jazz and some Dixieland for an instrumental, improvisational run-through of the frisky “Java” and into a smoky cabaret supper club vibe on the sweet ballad “All These Things,” with singer Kiki Chapman and a lovely, subdued (perhaps overly so) version of the title track.
The disc’s most unusual moment is a spoken-word performance of a previously unrecorded lyric called “The Beat,” found in a book of Toussaint’s poetry and read by Cyril Neville over sensual jungle drums and percussion from Moore and Dillon. “In the beginning was the beat,” recites Neville, and although there are more sedate moments here, that’s a concise summation of both this album and New Orleans music as a whole.
Toussaint’s songwriting talents created R&B-based music adaptable to artists as varied as The Yardbirds, Robert Palmer, Devo, Elvis Costello and countless others who covered his songs in a variety of genres. Stanton Moore takes a heavily jazz and funk-oriented stab at a handful of them, turning in vivid, vivacious performances that further expand Toussaint’s already elastic boundaries on this inventive covers collection that’s as classy and sophisticated as the artist.