Elvis Costello, a serial collaborator who has flitted from jazz to string quartets to Burt Bacharach, has now sidled up to Allen Toussaint. And while the match benefits the underappreciated New Orleans songwriter/producer in terms of exposure, it's the pop hipster who profits creatively from the odd coupling. The Katrina-themed set, recorded at Piety Street Studios in New Orleans last December with The Imposters and the Crescent City Horns, unveils new songs and retrofits such lesser-known vintage Toussaint tunes as "Tears, Tears and More Tears."
Toussaint is the album's heart and soul, a saving grace, since Costello has little natural old-school R&B spunk. Costello's title track feels stiff, and despite the deliciously spiteful lyrics, his "Broken Promise Land" is a jumbled composition (salvaged by Toussaint's horn charts). Their labor of love has warmth and emotional weight, but it's Toussaint's creamy vocals, funkified piano and R&B sensibilities, particularly in "Who's Gonna Help Brother Get Further?," that makes this River run deep.