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Allen Toussaint: American Tunes

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Sadly, American Tunes will mark the swan song of Allen Toussaint, the songwriter, pianist, producer and arranger so synonymous with late-20th-century New Orleans music that the city might as well just name the airport after him today and be done with it. Toussaint passed away last November while on tour in Spain, having only recently completed the sessions collected here.

It’s a doozy of a sendoff. Produced by Americana maven Joe Henry, American Tunes serves almost as a Toussaint for Dummies primer, from the rollicking barrelhouse solo-piano opener, the artist’s own “Delores’ Boyfriend,” to the nearly naked, emotionally delivered readings of his own classic “Southern Nights” and the always-poignant Paul Simon title track, “American Tune,” that close it out. Toussaint reportedly considered the recording an homage to one of his most beloved forebears, Roy “Professor Longhair” Byrd, and, again performing solo, he more than does justice to the two Prof-composed tracks on the album, “Hey Little Girl” and “Mardi Gras in New Orleans,” as well as Earl King’s “Big Chief,” a Longhair signature and cornerstone NOLA anthem (two more Longhairs turn up as bonus tracks on the vinyl).

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