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Allen Toussaint and Friends: A New Orleans Christmas

Robert Spencer By

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Allen Toussaint appears on piano and / or keyboards on ten of these thirteen tracks, which are a good representative sampler of the current New Orleans sound. If that doesn't mean anything to you, think of "The Man who Sang with Linda Ronstadt" a few years back. He, of course, doesn't appear here, but the folks who do have the same sound: Heavy danceable grooves with backing vocals behind soulful melisma-laden leads. Raymond Myles' funky "We Three Kings" is a standout. Myles sounds a little like Sly Stone, and turns in an impressive performance here on all the instruments, even egging himself on to get down on piano. On "O Holy Night" Myles gets some help from two guys named Johnny Walker, but he turns in another memorable track.

If you're looking for blues, you'll be hard-put to find a tougher blues groove than Grace Darling's "Merry Christmas, Baby." Is her tenor sax better than her singing? They're both way up there, sports fans. The ever-delightful New Birth Brass Band also stands out on "Santa's Second Line" and "Jingle Bells."

Worthy of note also is the ever-ready playing of Toussaint. His florid ragtime-flavored solo on "Winter Wonderland" shows the roots of the grooves on the other tracks. So even though it feels a bit strange to be listening to Christmas music in the middle of July, this disc will be of interest year-round to fans of Gospel-ly New Orleans funk. As a sampler it works wonderfully.

Tracks and personnel:Christmas This Year (Larry Hamilton); We Three Kings (Raymond Myles); New Year's Resolution (Larry Hamilton and Tricia Boutté); Santa's Second Line (New Birth Brass Band); Silent Night, Holy Night (Allen Toussaint); Christmas Comes But Once a Year (Wallace Johnson); Christmas in New Orleans (James Andrews); Jingle Bells (New Birth Brass Band); O Holy Night (Raymond Myles); The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) (Wallace Johnson); Winter Wonderland (Allen Toussaint); Do You Hear What I Hear? (Tricia Boutté); Merry Christmas, Baby (Grace Darling).

Title: A New Orleans Christmas | Year Released: 1998 | Record Label: NYNO

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