To stealiate from Preston Sturges, as Dr. John might slang, 1,000 pianos dreamed a 1,000 years, and two of New Orleans' piano princes were born. Their collaborators, Johnny Mercer and Elvis Costello, are the product of a millennia or two of songwriter reveries themselves.
Borrowing a page of sheet music from his dapper Ellington tribute, 2000's Duke Elegant, the good doctor goes back to NOLA, casting Mercer's old black magic. It's gris on gris, Mercernary, the Night Tripper and beat master Herman Ernest III funk-butting "You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby," "Come Rain or Come Shine," and "Moon River" like a matinee at the Crescent City's Maple Leaf Bar. Ain't no brain-salad surgery, chuckles DJ's "I Ain't No Johnny Mercer."
The Declan McManus runs through Allen Toussaint's songbook on The River in Reverse, overseer Joe Henry pronouncing the arranger/composer "our living Ellington" on a bonus DVD. Costello revels in Lee Dorsey's Big Easy, defiant on "Tears, Tears and More Tears," while Toussaint smooths out a vocal for thumper "Who's Gonna Help Brother Get Further?" Yet, it's the pair's co-writes throwing this tributary into high gear. "The Sharpest Thorn," "International Echo," and "Six-Fingered Man" grin like Costello's When I Was Cruel in the face of his rewriting Toussaint's "Tipitina" into new standard "Ascension Day." Costello's masterful title track and recording part of the album in Toussaint's birthplace match all four. Though ballad-heavy, The River in Reverse rocks. Dream a little dream of New Orleans.