Stealth Funk From Toussaint And The Meters
"Keep On Lovin' You" (A. Toussaint)
Z.Z. Hill, United Artists, 1974
Can't keep it on
For a long time I knew that Allen Toussaint had produced some sides on Z.Z. Hill for United Artists at Sea-Saint in New Orleans back in the 1970’s; but I hadn’t heard any of them until I found a double CD compilation in the mid-1990’s called The Complete Hill Records Collection/UA Recordings: 1972 – 1975. On the second CD were the four sides, three of which were also written by Toussaint and one by Leo Nocentelli, that had appeared on Hill’s UA album, Keep On Lovin’ You in 1974. Although the Meters are the rhythm section for these tunes, they do not inject their own group vibe into the project.
I recently found the single version of our feature track, which made it up to #39 on the R&B charts. What I dig about the record is that it’s certainly not a predictably Toussaint product either in the composition or its dense, dark feel. Had I not known he was involved with “Keep On Lovin’ You”, I doubt that I could have guessed it. That’s what makes it so interesting to me and why I decided to revisit it here.
According to Bill Dahl’s notes for the CD collection, Hill’s album was rather inconsistent due to the use of three producers (including Lamont Dozier on four tracks, Denny Diante, and Toussaint) and various studios and session players. Of the New Orleans sessions, the album’s title track and its single B-side, Toussaint's "Who Ever's Thrilling You Is Killing Me" are the standouts. Nocentelli's song, "Look What You've Done" would have made a great Meters track; but its potential is squandered by the overuse of strings. "Keep On Lovin' You", though, is the clear winner, using sophisticated, multi-layered arrangements to create a true musical landscape which Hill inhabits to soulfully deliver this tale of futile love. Zig Modeliste’s surprisingly methodical kick drum groove pulls you in from the get-go; and the hip, syncopated ostinato riff of George Porter, Jr.’s bass keeps you hooked. The moody strings (arranged by Jimmie Haskell and overdubbed in LA) and well-harnessed horns (Toussaint's charts) rise and fall with close to an orchestral counterpoint at times. Though reined-in, funk abides within the percolating congas, Nocentelli’s mixed low guitar chops, those handclaps, and the occasional rhythmic thrusts of the string and horn sections.
The keen eye will have noted that the single label lists two other producers for the tune beside Toussaint: Denny Diante and Spencer Proffer (?). I have no way of knowing exactly how they collaborated on this; but I feel that Diante and Proffer probably had some say on adding the strings to the session and having them done away from Toussaint’s home base. The composer surely called the shots on the basic arrangement, as well as the horns, in his own studio. In any case, I think "Keep On Lovin' You" is an impressive piece of work, revealing why so many sought to use his material and his production talents during the 1970's.