Allen Toussaint - Southern Nights (1975)

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My dad's about as funky as a pair of khaki pants. But when it comes to music, he's always had this thing for the grooves and beats of motown, soul, and R&B. You know that scene in Animal House where all the college kids dance to Otis Day singing "Shout?" I like to think my dad had a few nights like that back in college. But then again, my dad went to college in Carlisle, PA, and I'm pretty sure Otis Day never made it out there. Otis Redding didn't either. They didn't even get Otis Spunkmeyer. (Although that would have been a delicious concert.)

So it was no surprise when my dad retrieved this classic from the stacks. I had of course heard of Allen Toussaint before. But I was hard-pressed to actually name a song of his. To me, he was a jazz enigma; a New Orleans artist that I was hearing a whole lot more about since Katrina. So when I threw this one on to transfer it, all I could think was, "I had no idea."

Allen Toussaint, you groovy old man. This album, right from the get go, is the perfect summer companion. The lead-off track, Last Train, has a got a funky bass line that would make even the most sedentary porch-sitter at least tap his toe.

[ mp3 ]: Allen Toussaint - Last Train

Worldwide continues that summertime funk; and by the time you hit Back in Baby's Arms, a grand, stately dedication with a chorus that could have been a Sam Cooke number, it's clear this album is full of tightly crafted songs that are catchy as hell. Country John is a damn good tune that I'm sorry I haven't known my whole life.

Detractors of this album claim that the excerpts of the titular track that are sprinkled throughout the record dilute the tightness of the songs. I disagree. The Southern Nights theme, which was later covered quite successfully by Glen Campbell, submerges the album smack dab in the middle of a hot New Orleans summer. When this theme breaks through, I swear I saw perspiration form on the spinning vinyl.

[ mp3 ]: Allen Toussaint - Southern Nights

Southern Nights is the one track I actually recognized, although I'm not sure if that's because of the Campbell single, which popularized the tune.  Toussaint's version, with it's vaguely Asian harp opening and shimmering vocals that sound as though they're emanating directly from a wet puddle in the bayou, is so palpably lazy I simply had to put my feet up. You Will Not Lose would have been a hit in the eighties, and When the Party's Over has done more to make me want to visit New Orleans than any other song I've ever heard. (and that includes live recordings of Trombone Shorty)

[ mp3 ]: Allen Toussaint - When the Party's Over

So if you can't afford the airfare, and it's still a bit chilly where you are, turn on the heat for an hour and mix yourself a sazerac. Throw on Southern Nights, and I guarantee you a relaxing summer evening.