Allen Toussaint – Connected (1996)

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I’ve always been a fan of this pianist/composer. Perhaps never meant to be a star, Toussaint was one of those great working-class, behind-the-scenes talents — he did session work, produced, helped with A&R, wrote songs — who made the record business go back in the day.

In this way, Toussaint was the tireless, beating heart of New Orleans music in the early 1960s — yet still found relevance with the rockers later on. He made important contributions to the 1973 McCartney album “Venus and Mars,” made in New Orleans (“Listen What the Man Said”); that was him scoring the horns for the Band’s gritty and groovy “Last Waltz” performance, filmed by Martin Scorcese in the mid-1970s.

As a pianist, you hear influences in Allen from his great funky forebears — Huey “Piano” Smith, mostly; but also Fats Domino, Fess, and Ray Charles. Back then, he played a part in every important record (seems like) out of New Orleans — most particularly, on Minit.

That meant doing it all: writing, arranging, producing, and playing on hits by Ernie K-Doe, Irma Thomas, Jessie Hill, Chris Kenner, Barbara George, Lee Dorsey, Benny Spellman, the Showmen, and many more — “his rolling keyboards vital to the charm of virtually all of them,” as Bill Dahl so rightly wrote.

His greatest association? The Meters. Enough darn well said.

Solo records found less success, though I’ve loved some of his compositions. (So have Robert Palmer, Bonnie Raitt, and dozens of others who’ve recorded them.)

With that, I’d like to direct your attention to an undervalued gem in his catalog, issued in 1996 on the NYNO label: “Connected” — featuring New Orleans musicians both veteran (the Meters’ guitarist Leo Nocentelli) and new (jazzers Russell Batiste on drums and Roland Guerin on bass).

Rollicking piano numbers like “Funky Bars,” “Oh My” (my favorite) and “Ahma” remind you of the utter brilliance of classic okey-dokey stomps like “Mother-in-Law.”

It didn’t sell too well. Most people, I imagine, never studied the vintage liner notes long enough to notice someone like Toussaint buried there. I did. As such, he’s a kind of underground legend to me, but not destined to be any modern chart-topper. A shame.

Saw him at McCartney’s 1993 concert at the Superdome, and we talked a little about Paul and about those great old ’60s records. He was standing alone — unrecognized and, it seemed, OK with that.

See, despite the obvious glory of those long-ago sweat-soaked sides, he wasn’t resting on any laurels. Toussaint kept telling me about a new thing he was working on. This album is it.

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