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Play Something Sweet: Ace Taps R&B and Rock Legends for “The Allen Toussaint Songbook”

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What is success? For Allen Toussaint, it’s been a career that’s lasted for over fifty years in which he’s created some of the most memorable music ever committed to tape: “Mother-in-Law.” “Whipped Cream.” Lady Marmalade.” “Working in the Coal Mine.” “Southern Nights.” “Yes We Can Can.” The latter song, a hit for the Pointer Sisters, took on added significance when it became associated with Barack Obama’s 2008 U.S. Presidential campaign. As writer, producer, vocalist and arranger, Allen Toussaint’s stamp has been made on not just the music of his hometown New Orleans, not just on the music of America, but on the entirety of popular music. U.K. label Ace has just celebrated this remarkable career with Rolling with the Punches: The Allen Toussaint Songbook. The 24-track anthology conclusively proves that yes he could.

Rolling with the Punches spans the period between 1961 and 1992, a little over thirty productive years in a career that spans to this very day. Naturally, some of the very finest artists in Louisiana music history are represented here, as most were affiliated with Toussaint at one time or another. Though “Mother-in-Law” is absent, Ernie K-Doe opens the set with his 1971 “Here Comes the Girls,” its insistent riff having thrived thanks to a 2008 ad campaign from retailer Boots and a Sugababes sample later the same year. Lee Dorsey, the original “Working in the Coal Mine” man, makes appearances with “Holy Cow” and the fiendishly memorable “Occapella,” on which Toussaint makes one of his many prominent vocal appearances on this compilation. (“Coal Mine” is here, too, in The Judds’ 1985 countrified version.) Toussaint’s magic touch was felt by the Neville Brothers, naturally, and Aaron Neville’s rare 1961 single “Let’s Live” has been included here. Its songwriting credit was ascribe to one of Toussaint’s most famous pen names, that of Naomi Neville. (No relation to the Brothers!) The Meters played on many of Toussaint’s most memorable productions, and he groomed them for fame on their own, too, with songs like 1970’s “Ride Your Pony.” Benny Spellman, the famous answer voice on Ernie K-Doe’s “Mother-in-Law,” got his own instant classic from writer/arranger Toussaint with “Fortune Teller” (also the title track of a recent, Toussaint-dominated singles collection from RPM). And no Toussaint collection would be complete without a track from Irma Thomas, the Soul Queen of New Orleans. She’s heard with “Sweet Touch of Love,” from her 1992 album True Believer.

There’s much more after the jump, including the full track listing with discography, and order link!

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Written by Joe Marchese

December 6, 2012 at 11:39

Lipstick Traces (On a New CD): Benny Spellman’s “Fortune Teller” Rounds Up New Orleans Singles

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The name on the new CD is that of Benny Spellman, but Fortune Teller: A Singles Collection might as well have been co-credited to Allen Toussaint, the writer or co-writer of 24 of this new anthology’s 30 tracks.  The recently released collection from Cherry Red’s Shout! label brings together singles from Spellman’s illustrious career dating between 1960 and 1967, accurately subtitled “New Orleans Hits and Northern Soul Gems,” and you might just find each song to truly be a gem.  It’s hands-down the most comprehensive collection available on CD of the artist’s work, and even debuts five new-to-CD tracks (two of which are previously unreleased anywhere).

The stamp of legendary producer/arranger/musician Toussaint is all over these soulful tracks, from his sly, trademark piano to his sultry horns, but the new disc should go a long way in reminding listeners that Benny Spellman belongs on any “Who’s Who” of New Orleans music alongside Toussaint, Irma Thomas, Ernie K-Doe and the rest.  Though Florida native Spellman introduced soul staples “Fortune Teller” (famously recorded by the Rolling Stones and other luminaries like Robert Plant and Allison Krauss) and “Lipstick Traces (On a Cigarette)” on two sides of one 1962 single, his voice might be most recognizable as the answer voice to K-Doe on Toussaint’s No. 1 Pop and R&B hit “Mother-in-Law,” intoning the title phrase about the lady “sent from down below.”   Though not credited to Spellman, “Mother-in-Law” still appears on the new compilation.  But Spellman released a string of singles in his own name, and all were imbued with that signature New Orleans R&B style, supporting the singer’s own expressive, resonant baritone.

Spellman was familiar with New Orleans, having attended Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s Southern University on a football scholarship.  A chance encounter with Huey “Piano” Smith (“Sea Cruise”) and the Clowns brought Spellman back to the city a few years later, following a stint in the U.S. Army.  He was on the ground floor of the founding of Minit Records, and in 1960, when Allen Toussaint asked him to join the session for “Mother-in-Law,” he complied.  He repeated the same (uncredited) response duties on K-Doe and Toussaint’s “A Certain Girl,” and became in demand as a background vocalist, as well.  By 1962, Toussaint was producing tracks for Spellman as a top-tier artist, and he’s also heard on many of the tracks here as a prominent background vocalist himself.

Hit the jump for more details, including the full track listing with discography and an order link! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

August 21, 2012 at 10:09