Falling in love with each Costello album of the last few years is exhausting. But like his last two — My Flame Burns Blue and The Delivery Man — this one's no weekend fling. In stirring collaboration with New Orleans' r&b singer, songwriter, arranger, pianist and producer Toussaint, Costello is at full strength in this bountiful, well-crafted set of syncopated soul with dark undercurrents.
Along with well-chosen Toussaint gems — "On Your Way Down" (memorably covered in elegant funk-gospel fashion by Little Feat in the early 70s), the gorgeous "Freedom for the Stallion" and an uplifting "Tears, Tears and More Tears" — the album illustrates the fruits of a songwriting partnership made in r&b heaven and recorded in Katrina-ravaged New Orleans.
Among the best of it is Toussaint's beautiful minor key variation of Professor Longhair's "Tipitina," titled "Ascension Day," with touching lyrics by Costello. Another collaborative piece bearing repeated listenings is the lacerating "The Sharpest Thorn," which brings to mind a This Year's Model-era Elvis.
Toussaint's signature horn arrangements — think of the Band's "Life Is a Carnival" — add distinctive punch, while a crack studio band clearly favoring feel over frozen perfection reaches near-telepathic levels.