So busy was Allen Toussaint in the wake of his late-2000s revival, he didn't wind up entering a recording studio to begin work on a sequel to his 2009 jazz album, The Bright Mississippi, until 2013 (2013's Songbook consisted of live recordings from 2009). A few solo sessions happened that year, followed by a round with a band and guests in October 2015 and then he died a few weeks later, passing away in Madrid, Spain while on tour. Producer Joe Henry, who helmed The Bright Mississippi, pulled together American Tunes for a posthumous release in the summer of 2016. Tonally, American Tunes isn't much different from its predecessor, yet its elegiac elegance doesn't come from a place of despair: it's a wistful look back at his past and home. Where The Bright Mississippi focused firmly on jazz standards, American Tunes positions these prewar standards as just part of the fabric. Toussaint touches upon Big Easy standards, spinning "Mardis Gras in New Orleans" and "Big Chief" in a way that emphasizes their lyricism instead of rhythm, thereby drawing connections with the Bill Evans, classical, and Duke Ellington covers heard elsewhere on the record. Sometimes, the guests assert themselves -- Rhiannon Giddens commands attention when she sings Ellington -- but the presence of Charles Lloyd and Van Dyke Parks underscores the generous collaborative spirit within Toussaint's music; even when he's heard alone here, he's playing with and commenting upon tradition. American Tunes concludes with Toussaint singing two modern pop standards: "Southern Nights," an original of his popularized by Glen Campbell, and Paul Simon's "American Tune." Both function as revealing footnotes to the gorgeous instrumentals, underscoring his contribution to American popular song and how he found his own voice in the work of others. He was an American original, and American Tunes functions as a lovely coda to a legendary career.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine