What is success? For Allen Toussaint, it’s been a career that’s lasted for over fifty years in which he’s created some of the most memorable music ever committed to tape: “Mother-in-Law.” “Whipped Cream.” Lady Marmalade.” “Working in the Coal Mine.” “Southern Nights.” “Yes We Can Can.” The latter song, a hit for the Pointer Sisters, took on added significance when it became associated with Barack Obama’s 2008 U.S. Presidential campaign. As writer, producer, vocalist and arranger, Allen Toussaint’s stamp has been made on not just the music of his hometown New Orleans, not just on the music of America, but on the entirety of popular music. U.K. label Ace has just celebrated this remarkable career with Rolling with the Punches: The Allen Toussaint Songbook. The 24-track anthology conclusively proves that yes he could.
Rolling with the Punches spans the period between 1961 and 1992, a little over thirty productive years in a career that spans to this very day. Naturally, some of the very finest artists in Louisiana music history are represented here, as most were affiliated with Toussaint at one time or another. Though “Mother-in-Law” is absent, Ernie K-Doe opens the set with his 1971 “Here Comes the Girls,” its insistent riff having thrived thanks to a 2008 ad campaign from retailer Boots and a Sugababes sample later the same year. Lee Dorsey, the original “Working in the Coal Mine” man, makes appearances with “Holy Cow” and the fiendishly memorable “Occapella,” on which Toussaint makes one of his many prominent vocal appearances on this compilation. (“Coal Mine” is here, too, in The Judds’ 1985 countrified version.) Toussaint’s magic touch was felt by the Neville Brothers, naturally, and Aaron Neville’s rare 1961 single “Let’s Live” has been included here. Its songwriting credit was ascribe to one of Toussaint’s most famous pen names, that of Naomi Neville. (No relation to the Brothers!) The Meters played on many of Toussaint’s most memorable productions, and he groomed them for fame on their own, too, with songs like 1970’s “Ride Your Pony.” Benny Spellman, the famous answer voice on Ernie K-Doe’s “Mother-in-Law,” got his own instant classic from writer/arranger Toussaint with “Fortune Teller” (also the title track of a recent, Toussaint-dominated singles collection from RPM). And no Toussaint collection would be complete without a track from Irma Thomas, the Soul Queen of New Orleans. She’s heard with “Sweet Touch of Love,” from her 1992 album True Believer.
There’s much more after the jump, including the full track listing with discography, and order link!
Toussaint’s signature style, with its sly piano and sultry, insinuating horns, caught the attention of non-N’awlins soul men and women, too. Rolling with the Punches captures Philadelphia R&B legend Solomon Burke’s reading of the classic “Get Out of My Life, Woman,” South Carolina-born Don Covay’s take on “Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky (From Now On),” and native New Yorker Millie Jackson’s “I’ll Be Rolling (With the Punches).”
Rock artists were as quick to latch onto Toussaint’s style as were soul and even country musicians. He contributed arrangements to albums by The Band, and recorded an entire LP with Elvis Costello in 2006. Robert Palmer was joined by The Meters and Little Feat’s Lowell George for his 1974 recording of “Sneakin’ Sally Thru the Alley.” It’s included here, as is George’s own “What Do You Want the Girl to Do,” from 1979. (George sadly perished just weeks after its release.) Acerbic rocker Warren Zevon got in on the act with “A Certain Girl” from his 1980 album Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School. Zevon was joined by three more Toussaint fans on the Asylum LP: Jackson Browne and moonlighting Eagles Don Henley and Glenn Frey. Bill Medley, of the Righteous Brothers, brings his booming voice to a rarely-heard 1972 solo rendition of “Freedom for the Stallion.” But one of Toussaint’s biggest hits came from Glen Campbell, when he teamed with co-producer Gary Klein and arranger Charles Callelo to reinvent “Southern Nights.” The 1977 single went all the way to No. 1 Pop, richly rewarding both the singer and the songwriter.
Allen Toussaint continues to roll with the punches in 2012. He was a very public face in the aftermath of the devastating Hurricane Katrina. A victim of its ravages himself, he tirelessly raised funds for the residents of New Orleans with enormous resilience, not to mention the quiet dignity and grace that he’s always possessed. In 2009, he released The Bright Mississippi, an album that paid tribute to jazz inspirations like Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, Django Reinhardt and Jelly Roll Morton. Wherever this eternally cool cat appears next, one thing is certain: his sophisticated, funky brand of R&B will never go out of style. Rolling with the Punches features excellent, lengthy liner notes from producer Tony Rounce, and exemplary sound remastered by Duncan Cowell. “Whipped Cream” isn’t here, but plenty of other delights certainly are. It is a fantastic reminder of Toussaint’s enormous, and still growing, legacy, and makes for one of the most entertaining entries in Ace’s distinguished Songwriters and Producers series. It’s available for order below!
Various Artists, Rolling with the Punches: The Allen Toussaint Songbook (Ace CDCHD 1354, 2012)
- Here Come the Girls – Ernie K-Doe (Janus 167, 1971)
- Hercules – Boz Scaggs (Columbia LP KC 32760, 1974)
- What is Success – Bonnie Raitt (Warner Bros. LP BS 2818, 1974)
- Occapella – Lee Dorsey (Spring 114, 1971)
- Let’s Live – Aaron Neville (Minit 631, 1961)
- Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky (From Now On) – Don Covay (Atlantic 2725, 1970)
- Ride Your Pony – The Meters (Josie LP JOS 4010, 1970)
- Soul Sister – Allen Toussaint (Reprise 1109, 1972)
- Working in the Coal Mine – The Judds (Curb/RCA CD 78787, 1985)
- Get Out of My Life Woman – Solomon Burke (Atlantic 2566, 1968)
- Sweet Touch of Love – Irma Thomas (Rounder CD 2117, 1992)
- Shoo-Rah – Frankie Miller (Original 1974 mix, rel. Chrysalis CD 77712, 2010)
- Yes We Can Can – The Pointer Sisters (Blue Thumb 229, 1973)
- Fortune Teller – Benny Spellman (Minit 644, 1962)
- Freedom for the Stallion – Bill Medley (A&M 1350, 1972)
- Sneakin’ Sally Thru the Alley – Robert Palmer (Island 006, 1974)
- Whoever’s Thrilling You (Is Killing Me) – Z.Z. Hill (UA XW 536, 1974)
- Brickyard Blues (Play Something Sweet) – Maria Muldaur (Reprise LP MS 2194, 1974)
- What Do You Want the Girl to Do – Lowell George (Warner Bros. LP BSK 3194, 1979)
- I’ll Be Rolling (With the Punches) – Millie Jackson (Spring LP SPR 6712, 1976)
- Tampin’ – The Rhine Oaks (Atco 6724, 1969)
- A Certain Girl – Warren Zevon (Asylum 46610, 1980)
- Holy Cow – Lee Dorsey (Amy 965, 1966)
- Southern Nights – Glen Campbell (Capitol 4376, 1976)