Eye Weekly, June 1, 2006

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ELVIS COSTELLO & ALLEN TOUSSAINT

The River in Reverse

Verve/Universal

Mr. Smartypants and his band meet Mr. New Orleans and his horn section, produced by today's finest architect of vintage R&B, Joe Henry. Yet like so much of Costello's discography of the last 20 years, this sounds better on paper, another in a series of recent genre exercises that seem to be more about Costello proving something to himself. Despite Henry's sympathetic production and Toussaint's ace instrumentation, much of this plods along while Costello's vocals reach for soul salvation but get bogged down in the gravitas of it all. Four songs that conclude the first half of the album -- one by Costello, two by Toussaint, one a collaboration -- boast a rollicking southern swagger and bluesy backbone, especially when Toussaint takes his sole vocal turn on "Who's Gonna Help Brother Get Further?" Yet one great EP sequenced in the middle of an album doesn't make Costello's 25th studio release much reason to celebrate.

MICHAEL BARCLAY