Elton John/Leon Russell
The concept behind this album was simple: to unite two legendary artists with mutual admiration for each other and let them make music. Leon Russell may be one of the most under-appreciated keyboard men ever, even though his induction into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame is a slight correction of sorts. A superior session player who has played with everyone from Jerry Lee Lewis to the Rolling Stones and arranged classic songs like Ike & Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High,” and the Byrd’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” Leon Russell has at last begun to achieve a measure of recognition not seen since he organized the Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour in the ’70s.
And what can one say about Elton John? Lately it seems he had lost some of the creative fire from his Yellow Brick Road days and certainly it’s been a long while since his famous groundbreaking 1970 coming-to-America debut at the Troubadour (interestingly, Leon Russell had just recorded “A Song for You” for his first solo album and Elton recorded “Your Song” for his first solo album also. Coincidence? Hmmm…). While one certainly won’t find Elton anywhere near a roadhouse bar where bikers congregate, he brings a lot to the table on this CD. It’s interesting to hear both of them trading verses and choruses. Leon’s shuffling piano works in contrast to Elton’s almost delicate keyboard work. With plenty of country and gospel overtones drawn mainly from Leon’s background, both have turned in an inspired work far better than any of their recent albums. It’s a great album to enjoy on a Sunday morning ride and to both we say, “Welcome back.”
The Best of Leon Russell
This is the latest in quite a few Leon Russell retrospectives and it’s easily one of the best. The usual suspects are included, notably “A Song For You” (see above), “This Masquerade” (his song that George Benson made even more famous), “Hummingbird,” “Tightrope,” “Delta Lady” (a hit he wrote for Joe Cocker), and other familiar Russell standards. His rendition of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” is one of the best performances of a Dylan song ever. Plus, there’s even a bonus with the inclusion of “If it Wasn’t For Bad,” (from The Union collaboration with Elton, reviewed above), and the classic “Jumpin’ Jack Flash/Youngblood” live jam from George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh.
It’s a pretty impressive body of work, though there are lots more to be discovered on Leon’s individual albums. Listening to all the various quirky influences and disparate elements that go into Leon’s work, it becomes obvious why he was highly sought-after back in the ’70s. Modern songwriters would be hard-pressed to create songs like these, drawn from so many colors of the landscape. It’s obvious Leon had a great ear for talent. His Shelter Records was home to a diverse lineup that included Tom Petty, J.J. Cale, Phoebe Snow, Dwight Twilley, bluesman Freddie King, and even “Duppy Conqueror,” the first American single by Bob Marley.
Lets hope Leon Russell keeps on touring and playing for many years. He’s a reminder of what made the Golden Age of Rock so special.