At the Fair Grounds in May, Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint unveiled selections from their June album River In Reverse (Verve) to a crowd whose demographic probably hasn't yet been matched on the tour that show kicked off: New Orleanians well versed in the supernova-sized magnitude of Toussaint's impact. Toussaint's magic touch as a writer, producer and performer has flowed steadily through 20th century music, present on tracks from cult Ernie K-Doe hits to blockbusters like "Southern Nights."
Costello, for his part, has shown a versatility that is, if anyone's is, up to Toussaint's legend, and River In Reverse is a gorgeous consummation of their rapport. The album includes songs from the darkest corners of Toussaint's body of work, Costello's heart-wrenching, Katrina-inspired title track, and the plaintive gem "Ascension Day," a spooky, minor-key rendering of Toussaint's "Tipitina" retrofitted with new lyrics from Costello.
In a phone interview in April, he referred to the album as a songbook project, but the final result (recorded in December at New Orleans' Piety Street Studios) is more than a tribute. It achieves a nearly perfectly balanced conversation in which neither artist's voice overwhelms the other. At Jazz Fest, Costello hung back and let Toussaint drive, joining in on songs from River In Reverse and otherwise letting the set tip heavily in favor of Toussaint's songbook. This show is billed, officially, as Elvis Costello and the Imposters with Allen Toussaint, implying that the Costello catalog might be in the limelight. Based on their last visit, though, we can assume that the pair is savvy enough to give us more than a token showing from our hometown boy. Tickets $50.