**** out of *****
What will probably be the first of a few posthumously released albums from the Allen Toussaint camp we get American Tunes, which combines two of the greats last recording sessions. As dapper as one of his three piece suits, American Tunes regales the listener with clean standards, songs from his beloved New Orleans, and his own timeless tracks that make up the American song book.
Nonesuch Records has put out this double album which really shines a spotlight on Toussaints piano playing. There are solo recordings, trio recordings (with bassist David Piltch and drummer Jay Bellerose) and special guests dropping in. The album was recorded by Joe Henry and has a tribute, yet still laid back coolness to it. The solo take on the timeless "Mardi Gras In New Orleans" has a sense of wonder to go along with its inherit festive nature.
Mostly instrumental, the vocals come up with "Rocks In My Bed" one of three Duke Ellington numbers (along with instrumentals "Come Sunday" and Lotus Blossom") that Henry and Toussaint chose for the album. Sung expertly by Rhiannon Giddens the track bubbles alive, as does the mid album solo piano run through of "Big Chief", and ode to Toussaints main inspiration Professor Longhair through a track written by Earl King
The closing combo of an solo instrumental take on his own "Southern Nights" and the title track cover of Paul Simon ends the album on such a high note. "Southern Nights" regains some majesty and even adds some quirkiness with volumes and extras notes fluxuating to end things. "American Tune" on the other hand finds Toussaint doing his most affecting vocal work in years, never the perfect singer, it takes a beautiful pairing of a tune and recording like this to let the true majesty of his voice shine.
Longtime fans and newcomers alike will be satisfied by the clean reserved tribute by an American great to many other American greats. Toussaints legacy will live on the fantastically captured American Tunes proves he was still at the top of his game right til the end.