Allen Toussaint – Southern Nights

This is my favorite Sunday Morning album.  There is something about it that is pensive and relaxing simultaneously.  While the title refers to our sultry, humid evenings, I happen to prefer listening to it in the morning.  We are amidst Carnival season here in New Orleans, parades will start next week.  This is not a Mardi gras record.   It’s not even thematically or conceptually New Orleanian.  It can be very disjointed as a whole, but I think that’s what makes it pure New Orleans to me. Allen Toussaint, in my opinion, is the greatest musical talent to come from the Big Easy.  He spent most of his time in the production box or playing on others records, but this is his best and quite possibly the album that best embodies the spirit of New Orleans music.  You also get The Meters and The Nevilles throughout the record.

The record opens with the incomparable “Last Train,” a song depicting a train’s struggle to reach its final destination. Be it symbolism or metaphor.  I never thought I would come back to New Orleans after college.  However, after fumbling around South Carolina, a pit stop in Atlanta, I came home to visit New Orleans to see friends and family.  That Saturday afternoon, my friends and I got a pony keg, took it to The Fly (park overlooking the Mississippi River), drank beer and watched the mighty river flow.  I knew at that moment that I wasn’t leaving.  I’d made my last stop.  That location has proven to be quite seminal for me.  This record always takes me back but also pushes me to look ahead.  Perfect Sunday reflection.

Speaking of reflection, “Worldwide” is next.  The perfect compliment to “Last Train.” The song begs us to take stock of ourselves, get our shit together, and take advantage of what the world is presenting to us.  There are so many chances in life.  Take them.  On a personal NOLA note, I spent about a decade flying around the world for work. I’d always get this weird warm feeling landing back home at MSY.  That feeling hasn’t been there the last few years but this song has a way of bringing it back in some respect.

“Country John.” An absolute funk masterpiece.  Legendary bassline but I think it may be the only track that isn’t George Porter (someone fact check me there). “Basic Lady” is another great NOLA funk ditty, backed notably this time by George Porter Jr.’s bassline.  I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know George over the last decade.  He’s played Hogs a record six times.  The track does a great job setting up the album’s piece de resistance, the titular “Southern Nights.”  Made famous by Glen Campbell’s cover, Allen’s original version is where it’s at.  His sweeping piano and airy vocals put a warmth and sense of being on the track I just can’t hear in Campbell’s Americana-ized rendition.  Listen to both, but Allen’s version feels so relevant to New Orleans today.  

Embrace your dreams.  “You will not lose/ not if you use your heart.”  Include a little judgment and a wee bit of critical thinking.

Favorite Tracks: “Last Train” “Worldwide” “Country John” “Basic Lady” “Southern Nights” “You Will Not Lose”

Pressing: Reprise Records MS 2186.  Original US Pressing. 1975