Elvis had long acknowledged Allen Toussaint as one of his favorite songwriters and composers, going so far as to work with the man twice in the '80s. When Hurricane Katrina left Toussaint among the thousands of homeless, Elvis channeled his anger into a variety of performances and eventually a full-length album designed to spotlight both Toussaint's talents and the musical legacy of New Orleans.
The River In Reverse was recorded quickly over a two-week period, and mixes six older Toussaint compositions with six new collaborations. Toussaint plays piano and sings throughout, with the stalwart backing of the Imposters, a horn section and an additional guitarist to boost the sound. Not only do the lyrics for the new songs echo the disgust Costello felt at the situation in the Delta, but oddly enough, the "covers" also sound sadly timely, even those he'd been performing for years.
Comparisons with Painted From Memory — the collaboration with Burt Bacharach that could have also mixed new versions of old songs, but didn't — are inevitable, no thanks to photos of Our Hero wearing yet another stupid hat. While the recording is full and hits a smooth groove, the covers are just okay and the new songs themselves aren't especially memorable. It didn't help when live performances of the title track, which blatantly addresses the political situation, would inevitably incorporate lyrics from other songs from the album, confusing one's recall.
But despite all this, it's an important recording, and better that the album stands on its own rather than get lost in the shuffle of a few album tracks here and there. (Elvis thought so strongly about it that he soon took all the musicians on the road to showcase the new songs and preach the gospel of Allen Toussaint. And initial copies of the album came with a bonus DVD documenting the sessions, the first recordings held in New Orleans after the devastation of Katrina.)