Although few would compare Allen Toussaint’s own recorded output with his productions, Toussaint still recorded enough good material in the 1970s to have made a fine compilation. Unfortunately, this “best of” is far from perfect.
There some embarrassing choices here—the Shaft-era “right on jive” of “Soul Sister”—the musical equivalent of the Meters album cover with the black girl holding a bottle of Ripple; Toussaint’s tribute to the almighty dollar, “Viva La Money”; and his rather lame remake of his standard “Lover of Love.”
Like John Lennon, Toussaint’s insecurity about his voice led him to drench it in double tracking and echo. Although the sound is effective on atmospheric ballads like “From a Whisper to a Scream” and “Southern Nights,” in other spots (“What Do You Want the Girl to Do”) the multi-track voice lacks the warmth of the lyric. It is fascinating to note Toussaint’s reflective lyrics on songs like “What Is Success.” But Toussaint’s forte on his solo album were loose, driving funk numbers, which, happily, are found here, notably “Last Train” and “Happiness.”
Although there are five songs here from Toussaint’s “Sgt. Pepper,” Southern Nights, there are six songs from the weak Motion album.
Southern Nights can be tracked down as a very expensive Japanese import, but, to tell the truth, Toussaint’s most driving, soulful recordings were not on one of his albums, but on the 1976 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival live album, which is available from Rhino. Unencumbered by his seeming need to overproduce himself in the studio, he contributed rollicking versions of “Play Something Sweet” and “Shoorah, Shoorah” that put the lie to him not being a fiery live performer. He also sang a stunningly powerful rendition of his searing social indictment “Freedom for the Stallion.” Toussaint has never recorded a finer performance. By anyone. Period. Unfortunately, those songs are not on The Allen Toussaint Collection.