It should surprise no-one that Allen Toussaint has been added to Ace’s songwriter series. In a career that’s in its seventh decade, this quietly spoken, modest son of New Orleans has written some of the greatest hits ever to grace the Great American Songbook. And on his own, too – there can be very few black American composers who have written so many successful songs without the aid of a collaborator. Between 1960 and 1980, barely a week went by without his compositions appearing on the R&B or Hot 100 charts. Some were subsequently revived, in multiple versions, and often with renewed success. Most of them are the kind of popular music standards of which any songwriter would be proud.
“Rolling With The Punches” is a compilation that celebrates Allen’s glittering career in a rounded and highly appropriate manner. Other anthologies of his work as a songwriter have tended to be built around the numbers he wrote during the first 10 years of his career – and we couldn’t omit titles such as ‘Ride Your Pony’, ‘Fortune Teller’ and ‘Working In The Coal Mine’ here. However, rather than massively duplicate what those other collections have to offer, this one focuses primarily on the later songs Allen penned in a period when he was looking beyond the constraints of the 3-minute single and moving his writing in new directions.
Many of the tracks featured here are sung by some of Allen’s biggest musical admirers. Robert Palmer, Boz Scaggs, Bonnie Raitt and Little Feat’s Lowell George all recorded multiple of his songs, so we were often spoiled for choice as to whose versions of which songs to include. We also couldn’t omit Irma Thomas, Aaron Neville, Lee Dorsey or Ernie K-Doe, all of whom have career-long associations with Allen. No tribute to him could be complete without at least one contribution from each.
Neither could we leave out the man himself. The compilation features pristine examples of Allen’s work as a vocalist (‘Soul Sister’) and instrumentalist (the Rhine Oaks’ ‘Tampin’’). More than anything, these show that Allen Toussaint should have been as big a star as those whose careers he helped as a writer, arranger and/or producer, had he not been content to remain behind the scenes.
It’s always nice to get the approval of someone whose work we seek to anthologise. When we sent the proposed track listing for this compilation to Allen, his reply read as follows: “Absolutely wonderful choices. I’m looking forward to hearing this myself! Thank you very much.” Of course, it’s we who should be thanking him.
By Tony Rounce