Although recording sessions for The River in Reverse were said to be the first major studio project in post-Katrina New Orleans, that's more a matter of happenstance than anything else.
The real reason to listen to this collaboration between Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint is for the depth of its soul.
Some of the songs are specifically about New Orleans, but all of them are of New Orleans. They overflow with Toussaint's jaunty piano and Costello's distinctive voice, which grows more affecting and expressive every year. Seven of the songs are from Toussaint's catalog; another five are new tunes he wrote with Costello. And one, the title track, Costello wrote himself.
Toussaint, a veteran band leader, brings his own horn section to play with Costello's Imposters, and the two camps lock into groove after deep groove. They summon that joyous funereal sound peculiar to New Orleans on "The Sharpest Thorn" and dial in a classic, funky soul sound for "On Your Way Down."
The title track makes oblique reference to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, and the biblical imagery of "Broken Promise Land" alludes to the state of the city after the water receded.
Toussaint was initially counted among the missing in the days after the hurricane. He turned up, of course, and relocated temporarily to New York City, where he crossed paths with Costello at several benefit concerts.
They had worked together before in the '80s, but their fortuitous reconnection last fall has led to one of the most rewarding collaborations of either artist's career.