Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Leon Russell - 1979 - Life And Love

Leon Russell 
Life And Love

01. One More Love Song 4:01
02. You Girl 3:26
03. Struck By Lightning 2:51
04. Strange Love 4:06
05. Life And Love 3:21
06. On The First Day 4:21
07. High Horse 4:41
08. Sweet Mystery 5:13
09. On The Borderline 2:15

Joe Chemay Vocals
Marty Grebb Guitar, Main Personnel, Saxophone, Soloist
Wornell Jones Vocals (Background)
Roger Linn Audio Production, Guitar, Producer
Lena Luckey Vocals (Background)
Jody Payne Guitar, Main Personnel
Francis Pye Vocals (Background)
Bernetta Rand Vocals (Background)
Mickey Raphael Harmonica, Main Personnel
Leon Russell Guitar, Vocals

I love Leon Russell. I would very strongly recommend many of his albums to most people, but I would never direct someone to start here, with this album. If you are already a die-hard Leon Russell fan, you should absolutely not skip this one, but I regretfully agree with the reviewer who mentioned that it sometimes feels like a demo. Several of these songs are outstanding (I've heard other, live versions of some of them that are truly magnificent), but when I listen to this CD, I can't help thinking that there is a drum machine on some of the tracks and that they weren't fully developed. This is an extremely rare feeling when listening to his albums, so I am very surprised by it. I've even considered that perhaps I am mistaken in thinking there is a drum machine on any of these tracks.

Leon Russell is an incredible, highly respectable, one of a kind musician...the absolute best, IMHO. If you aren't familiar with his work yet, you'll have a wonderful time discovering it. I'd say, if you are new to Leon's music, start with the albums "Leon Russell" and "Leon Live." If you love those (and I can't imagine not loving them), then, move onto albums like "Carney," "Leon Russell & the Shelter People," "Will of the Wisp," "Best of Hank Wilson," and "Hank Wilson's Back." When you are in love with those albums, you will be clamoring for more, and you will be ready for Life & Love.

For those that are already huge fans of Leon Russell - if you haven't heard this album yet - by all means, get it!

Leon Russell - 1978 - Americana

Leon Russell 

01. Let's Get Started 4:15
02. Elvis And Marilyn 3:07
03. From Maine To Mexico 3:12
04. When A Man Loves A Woman 3:22
05. It's Only Me 2:22
06. Midnight Lover 4:13
07. Housewife 2:57
08. Ladies Of The Night 3:02
09. Shadow And Me 3:06
10. Jesus On My Side 3:04

Joe Chemay Bass, Vocals
Marty Grebb Guitar, Saxophone, Trumpet
Wornell Jones Vocals
Lee Loughnane Horn Arrangements, Trumpet
Mike Meros Keyboards, Organ, Synthesizer
Brent Nelson Drums
James Pankow Trombone
Walter Parazaider Saxophone, Vocals
Leon Russell Bass, Guitar, Keyboards, Piano, Vocals
John Woodhead Guitar

If I were being objective, this would probably earn four stars; but I can't help being a Russell-junkie, and thus, the man can do no wrong. It never ceases to amaze me that so many music fans go berserk when one of their favorites seems to changes style. It's like wanting your kid to be 3 years old forever. Ask an artist, rather than a fan, and they will attest to the need to grow as a musician; the best changing styles and motiffs like changing clothes. Russell would epitomize this wandering from one musical form to another.

Claude Russell Bridges, a.k.a. Leon Russell, was musically raised with Country, Gospel, Rockabilly, and Honky Tonk in his earliest days in Oklahoma and finally left home at an early age touring with the likes of Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks and Jerry Lee Lewis. He settled in L.A. during the sixties becoming a very much in-demand session player on a plethera of sixties pop singles.
On his own, he released the two Asylum Choir albums which were hard to classify: kind of psychadelic/country/pop. Soon thereafter began his initial "Master of Space and Time" rock stage; associating with the likes of Joe Cocker, Delaney and Bonnie, George Harrison, and on and on. There was some experimenting with jazz on Carney and Stop All That Jazz, interrupted with a full album of classic Country favorites: Hank Wilson's Back. Next came a pair of albums with new wife, the former Mary McCready.

Americana became Russel's newest swich in style. This album is a mix of Country, "Popish" Bluegrass, and just plain fun. This album would mark a major shift in Russell's musical style. He would tour for the next two years with his new band the New Grass Revival, and he would follow with several follow-up volumes of Hank Wilson. Leon has remained very active over the years, playing in smaller clubs and putting forth at least one and often several albums each year.

Leon Russell - 1975 - Will O' the Wisp

Leon Russell 
Will O' the Wisp

01. Will O' The Wisp (Instrumental) 0:55
02. Little Hideaway 3:57
03. Make You Feel Good 2:23
04. Can't Get Over Losing You 5:04
05. My Father's Shoes 4:16
06. Stay Away From Sad Songs 4:01
07. Back To The Island 5:20
08. Down On Deep River 3:55
09. Bluebird 3:55
10. Laying Right Here In Heaven 2:52
11. Lady Blue 3:28

Tommy Allsup Guitar, Guitar (Acoustic), Guitar (Electric)
J.J. Cale Flute, Guest Artist, Guitar, Guitar (Electric)
Moon Calhoun Drums, Drums (Snare)
Ambrose Campbell Drums, Drums (Snare), Percussion
Steve Cropper Guest Artist, Guitar, Guitar (Electric), Slide Guitar
Donald "Duck" Dunn Bass, Guest Artist
Teddy Jack Eddy Drums, Drums (Snare), Guest Artist
Rev. Patrick Henderson Keyboards, Organ, Percussion, Tabla, Tambourine
Carl Himmel Drums, Drums (Snare), Percussion
Masako Hirayama Biwa
Jim Horn Guest Artist, Sax (Alto), Saxophone, Soloist
Al Jackson, Jr. Drums, Drums (Snare), Percussion
Jim Keltner Bass, Drums, Drums (Snare), Guest Artist, Percussion
Bobby Manuel Guest Artist, Guitar, Guitar (Electric)
Mary McCreary Tambourine, Vocals, Vocals (Background)
David Miner Bass, Percussion
Don Preston Guitar, Guitar (Electric), Vocals
Carl Radle Bass
Leon Russell Bass, Bass (Electric), Clavinet, Composer, Guica, Guitar, Guitar (Acoustic), Guitar (Electric), Keyboards, Organ, Percussion, Piano, Piano (Electric), Primary Artist, Producer, Slide Guitar, Synthesizer, Vocals, Vocals (Background)
Mary Russell Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals

I suspect that the title of Leon Russell's fine new album refers to the experience of pop stardom and the lessons, many of them painful, Russell has absorbed in the process of attempting to sustain his self-created myth. For the role Russell has portrayed over the past several years, that of a glamorous, reclusive Renaissance man of pop, has lately seemed larger than the man playing it. His efforts at expanding his repertoire beyond pop and rock to encompass first country and then jazz have proven respectively mediocre and inept, while his two-year-old live album seemed excessively long and showed Russell desperately parodying his own imitation of black gospel vocal style.

The memory of the pop consumer is short. Only three years ago, Leon Russell released his near masterpiece, Carney. An album that both defined and enshrined Russell's self-portrait with astonishing artfulness, Carney cohered as an understated, completely convincing statement from a man obsessed and confused by the roles that pop stardom demanded and suggested. It was at once monumentally egotistical and romantically agonized in its promotion of the age-old "lonely at the top" scenario. With Carney Russell definitively cinched his superstar status, securing an artistic autonomy he would subsequently squander in choices that seemed extremely self-destructive.

Happily, Will o' the Wisp represents Russell's most substantial achievement since Carney. Its ten songs are all well made, and the Russell/Denny Cordell production is the most imaginative to be found on any Russell album. While no one song quite matches the eloquence of "A Song for You" and "This Masquerade" from earlier albums, Will o' the Wisp expresses a unity of purpose in its spirit of dedication to one woman, Mary McCreary, who sings elaborately overdubbed back-ups on several of the tunes and lead on one; and just as significantly, a rededication to the basic spirit of rock & roll.

For the first time since Carney, Russell applies his exploratory restlessness not to forms outside of rock but to the technical possibilities within the rock context afforded by a 40-track tape machine and the use of synthesizer as an important supplementary rock instrument. The outer limits of these possibilities begin to become most apparent on three exotic studio "production numbers" -- "Little Hideaway," "Can't Get Over Losing You" and "Back to the Island." "Little Hideaway," which celebrates two lovers' idyllic retreat, apotheosizes McCreary's extraordinary voice (sassy, soulful and highly flexible) by turning it into a huge choir, while Russell runs exciting arpeggios on the synthesizer, treating the instrument as a sort of electric harpsichord. "Can't Get Over Losing You" opens with bizarre instrumentation, most notably Minoru Muraoka playing a Japanese wooden flute, then segues into a classic rockabilly format led by J.J. Cale on electric guitars, while McCreary is again overdubbed into a weird off-harmony chorus of lamentation. "Back to the Island," another joyous escape song, is tricked out with oceanic sound effects. The cut works in the way intended -- as a piece of delightful fantasia.
With few exceptions, Russell's new songs appear to be inspired by his creative relationship with McCreary. Among those that are not, the most touching and personal is "My Father's Shoes," a gospel-styled hymn in which Russell meditates on the continuity of the father/son relationship, regretting the difficulty of being able to express directly both paternal and filial love:

And now I think of my daddy
He bought these kind of shoes
And after all this time
I think I know him
I'd like to say I love him
But the time has passed away

Equally strong is "Bluebird," a song whose powerful melody and vigorous performances paradoxically celebrate a state of complete emotional desolation. It's reassuring to hear that Russell can still belt out the cosmic blues with the best of them. The album closes with two intimate love songs. For "Laying Right Here in Heaven," which is touched with reggae, McCreary and Russell sing the very sexy lyrics as call and response. "Lady Blue," the lovely tune that ends the album, is a simple love song of total devotion: "I love you more and more and more/Lady blue." Here, Russell's vocal is remarkably unmannered and Jim Horn delivers a subtle alto sax solo.

Though Will o' the Wisp does not pretend to the intellectual level of Carney, it is warmer and more enjoyable. The arrogance, facetiousness and just plain sloppiness that have flawed Russell's post-Carney albums are hardly apparent. For a change, Russell's vocal mannerisms work for him instead of against him. To define the difference between affectation and a spontaneously felt personal style in Russell's singing is difficult. I suppose it simply comes down to one's intuiting how involved Russell is with his material. To may ears, he sounds very much involved on this album. Being the studio Pygmalion to McCreary's choir of angels has inspired Russell to find appropriately "perfect" sound settings that would enhance the beauty of his creation: an eccentric proposition that fortunately does not go over the line into craziness. The reason it doesn't is that Russell's songs remain firmly rooted in rock and pop tradition. Moreover, while Russell has only begun to explore the capabilities of synthesizer, he has resisted the temptation to indulge in experimentation for its own sake. Which is why Will o' the Wisp is such an encouraging album. Adventurous but disciplined, it goes a long way toward re-establishing Russell's artistic credibility and marks him as a pop innovator who cannot be counted out.
- Stephen Holden, Rolling Stone, 6-19-75.

Russell's seventh album proved to be one of his best. Will O' The Wisp is a diverse record, showcasing many sides of his sound, with tender ballads, funky grooves and rollicking piano. It seems to be very much an experimental studio album, much like Carney. Among the backing musicians are many of Russell's friends, incuding JJ Cale (guitar), Jim Keltner (drums), Steve Cropper (guitar), Carl Radle (bass), Reverend Patrick Henderson (keyboards & percussion), Karl Himmel (drums), Don Preston (guitar), Donald Dunn (bass), Al Jackson Jr (drums) and Jim Horn (sax). Russell himself plays piano, organ, clavinet, synthesizer, guitar, bass and percussion. Many of the songs have an eerie psychedelic vibe, helped by some mind-frying synthesizers in places. Of particular note is "Little Hideaway", which is a dark, breath-taking masterpiece, and "Laying Right Here In Heaven", a duet with soon-to-be-wife Mary McCreary.
One song from the album, "Lady Blue", was released as a single and became a hit, getting to #14 on the charts. The album itself got to #30, making it one of his most successful.

Leon & Mary Russell - 1977 - Make Love To The Music

Leon & Mary Russell 
Make Love To The Music

01. Easy Love 3:58
02. Joyful Noise 3:38
03. Now Now Boogie 2:55
04. Say You Will 3:38
05. Make Love To The Music 3:54
06. Love Crazy 2:58
07. Love Is In Your Eyes 2:49
08. Hold On To This Feeling 3:51
09. Island In The Sun 5:55

Dave Miner Percussion
Teddy Jack Eddy Drums
Marty Grebb Guitar, Saxophone
Marty Gregg Saxophone
Karl Himmel Drums
Ben Keith Dobro
David Miner Bass, Percussion
Gary Ogan Bass, Drums
Mickey Raphael Harmonica
Leon Russell Bass, Guitar, Keyboards, Piano, Vocals
Mary Russell Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
Greg Thomas Drums

Leon and Mary Russell's debut album together Wedding Album was a personal and musical triumph for everyone involved. So it seemed obvious that a fairly emmediate follow up album was in order and they delivered one. At the very same time this is a completely different musical experience. Mary's participation on this album on every front is somewhat played down as Leon gets a bit more involved. There's more of a similarity to his earlier solo albums in parts and generally speaking is a mix of tunes similar in flavor to their debut album and some that follow Leon's own musical lead a bit more. "Easy Love" and the title song bare the most similarity to the previous album as somewhat uptempo soul/funk but the groove is a lot slicker and the synthesizer arrangements are a lot less thick overall. Still the music on these songs is every bit as brilliantly written as before. A good number of these songs such as "Joyful Noise","Now Now Boogie","Say You Will" and "Hold On To This Feeling" have a more organic,chunky honky tonk style funk groove more in keeping with some of the earlier Leon Russell solo albums and showcasing the band more than the individual styles of himself and Mary. This album was released the same year as Saturday Night Fever so some of the style of disco does show up on a few of these tracks. Actually the ones that do;"Love Crazy" and "Love Is In Your Eyes" are harder edged disco-funk flavore tunes with some chunky,heavily processed clavinets and some nasty rhythmic exchanges. The swoony romanticism of the previous album is replaced by a heavier sensual passion on this album and these two cuts display that more than others. The last tune on the album features Mary the most on the somewhat psychedelisized caribbean groove of "Island In The Sun". As with the previous album there really are no bad cuts at all on this album. They're all different though and that can be a wonderful thing often enough. In this case the pair require a cohesive musical concept to be their very best and this album doesn't really possess that kind of cohesiveness so it's only one star less powerful than the previous album.

Leon & Mary Russell - 1976 - Wedding Album

Leon & Mary Russell 
Wedding Album

01. Rainbow In Your Eyes 4:08
02. Like A Dream Come True 2:14
03. Love's Supposed To Be That Way 3:15
04. Fantasy 3:58
05. Satisfy You 4:39
06. You Are On My Mind 2:42
07. Lavender Blue (Dilly Dilly) 4:34
08. Quiet Nights 3:16
09. Windsong 3:32
10. Daylight 3:21

Ambrose Campbell Congas, Drums, Percussion
Steve Douglas Flute
Teddy Jack Eddy Drums, Handclapping
Marty Grebb Guitar, Saxophone
Jim Horn Saxophone
Roger Linn Guitars, Percussion, Slide Guitar
Dennis Mansfield Drums
David Miner Bass, Congas
Nigel Olsson Drums
Gary Rowles Guitar
Leon Russell Bass, Guitar, , Keyboards, Percussion, Piano, Pipe Organ, Synthesizer, Vibraphone, Vocals
Mary Russell Keyboards, Percussion, Piano, Synthesizer, Vocals
Greg Thomas Drums
Gregg Thomas Bird Calls, Drums
Truman Thomas Keyboards, Piano (Electric)
Richard Torrance Guitar, Guitar (Acoustic)
Julius Wechter Keyboards, Marimba, Piano, Synthesizer
Willie Weeks Bass
Robert & Gene Wilson Bass
Robert Sinclair Wilson Bass
Bobby Womack Guitar, Guitar (Acoustic), Guitar (Electric)

This album was not exactly a chart-topper when it was released, but when I listened to it back when, I was instantly hooked by the great harmony between Leon and Mary. The back and forth, both vocally and instrumentally, as they both play a mean piano, is captivating. The lyrics on this disc reveal their emotions and tell the story of their "Wedding". Anyone who digs Leon Russell will love this album, he sounds upbeat and excited to be singing with Mary, who has her own style and unique voice. A rare find, as I have been looking on Amazon and other sites for over a year and when it surfaced, I grabbed it up immediately. Highly recommended for all Leon fans!

Leon Russell - 1974 - Live In Japan

Leon Russell 
Live In Japan

01. Heaven 4:57
02. Over The Rainbow / God Put A Rainbow 5:39
03. Queen Of The Roller Derber 1:49
04. Roll Away The Stone 4:04
05. Tight Rope 2:59
06. Sweet Emily 3:24
07. Alcatraz 4:05
08. You Don't Have To Go 2:35
09. A Song For You / Of Thee I Sing / Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms 7:10

Recorded live in concert at the Budokan Hall, Tokyo on November 8, 1973.

Delrose Allen Vocals (Background)
Chuck Blackwell Drums
Ambrose Campbell Congas
Carolyn Cook Vocals (Background)
Joey Cooper Guitar, Vocals (Background)
Nettie Davenport Vocals (Background)
Charlene Foster Vocals (Background)
John Gallie Organ
Rev. Patrick Henderson Piano, Vocals
Carl Radle Bass
Leon Russell Composer, Piano, Primary Artist, Quotation Author, Vocals

For me, personally, over the past four decades (maybe longer), I have found that there's a certain chemical reaction I get, a feeling that emerges in me, whenever I hear the music of the Rolling Stones. I could be feeling really low on some particular day, so far down I could "parachute off a dime"--but then I put some Stones on, or just happen to hear a certain song of theirs come on the radio...And suddenly, like magic, everything changes.

My mood immediately lightens up by leaps and bounds, my mental outlook improves immeasurably; inexplicably, I get a lift, like I'm literally being raised off of the ground. This always happens, and I've never known why. Never did, and I still don't. But there is something about Rolling Stones music that energizes me in such a positive way that I can never do without it for very long.

And now, in more recent times (even though I've been listening to this man's music for almost as long), I've come to realize that the music of Leon Russell has very much the same kind of effect on me. Not that Leon's voice is at all similar to Mick's, although they both do a mean version of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" as well as lovely renditions of "Wild Horses." Whatever it is, I love Stones music, and I love Leon's music, and I'm also grateful that these guys are still out their doing what they've always done so well.

The year 2010 was a great one for Leon and for Leon Russell fans, after his perfect "Union" with Elton. What a great album! And what a great shot in the arm for Leon's career. Many of his old fans from the early '70s probably didn't even know for sure that the man was still around.

Well, he is (even going out on the road as Bob Dylan's touring partner in Summer 2011), and all the more reason to celebrate and enjoy one of the first releases from the L.A.-based Omnivore label, a 1973 live Leon recording made in Japan, and released on vinyl back then, but only in that country. This is the first time since 1974 that this concert recording has been made available anywhere else, in any other format.

Before Dylan, Cheap Trick or any other artist made their "Budokan" albums, Leon made one, and this is it. Naturally, if you are a Leon Russell fan, you have to have this. You'll want it for the music, of course. But if you opt for the CD version, you also get a wonderful 20-page color booklet with extensive credits, great photos and two complete essays about that overseas tour, and about that early '70s era, when Leon was a "Superstar." (For a great many of us, he never stopped being one.)

One essay is by Steve Todoroff, an expert on Leon's career who has authored a book about the recordings of Leon Russell. The other essay is by the Reverend Patrick Henderson, who was a member of Leon's band back then. The album opens with Rev. Patrick and the backup singers he brought in (Black Grass) featured on a couple of numbers, before Leon's full impact kicks in.

Check the track list and you'll see that there are numbers here (some of the blues songs in the medleys, as well as "Blues Power," the one Leon worked up with Eric Clapton) that you'll not find elsewhere. On the 1971 Houston material (which was several months prior to Leon's appearance at The Concert for Bangladesh) he had Kathi McDonald and Claudia Lennear as his background singers, and "Jack Flash" was already in the show.

Both the 1971 and 1973 shows are great--put them in your rotation of Leon concert recordings. How about (as soundtrack to a long afternoon into evening barbecue or pool party), a chronological playing of Mad Dogs & Englishmen, followed by Houston '71 (tracks 10 through 16), followed by Concert For Bangladesh, followed by Leon Live (Long Beach '72), capped off by Live in Japan (tracks 1 through 9)?

Can a Leon Russell fan ever really get enough of Leon playing Live?

Leon Russell - 1974 - Stop All That Jazz

Leon Russell 
Stop All That Jazz

01. If I were A Carpenter 3:50
02. Smashed 2:17
03. Leaving Whipporwhill 4:04
04. Spanish Harlem 4:33
05. Streaker's Ball 2:15
06. Working Girl 3:11
07. Time For Love 3:40
08. The Ballad Of Hollis Brown 3:54
09. Mona Lisa Please 3:28
10. Stop All That Jazz 3:59

Leon Russell Banjo, Bass, Guitar, Keyboards, Piano, Piano (Electric), Synthesizer, Vocals

Ann Bell Vocals, Vocals (Background)
Henry Best Bass
Chuck Blackwell Drums
John Cale Guitar, Guitar (Electric)
Chris Clayton Horn, Vocals (Background)
Joey Cooper Guitar, Vocals
Pete Drake Guitar (Steel)
Linda Hargrove Guitar, Guitar (Acoustic)
Karl Himmel Drums
Jim Keltner Bass, Drums
William Kenner Mandolin
Marcy Levy Vocals, Vocals (Background)
Tommy Lokey Horn, Vocals (Background)
Willie Nelson Guitar, Guitar (Rhythm), Vocals
Jamie Oldaker Drums
Don Preston Dobro, Guitar, Vocals
Carl Radle Bass
Edwin Scruggs Guitar, Guitar (Acoustic)
Lena Stephens Vocals, Vocals (Background)
Odell Stokes Guitar
Pam Thompson Vocals, Vocals (Background)
Cam Wilson Organ, Percussion, Vocals (Background)
Charlie Wilson Keyboards, Vocals
Ric Wilson Bass
Robert Sinclair Wilson Bass, Drums
Ronald Wilson Horn, Vocals (Background)

What is it about 1974 anyway?  I’m not saying there was no great music made that year, but somehow, so many of my favorite artists, people who released classic albums in ’72 and ’73, came out with stuff in ’74 that was… a little flat, a little tired and uninspired.  This is not a bad album, but if I were assembling a “best of Leon Russell” compilation, I’m not sure any of these songs would make it.  Side A starts with a rather goofy cover of “If I Were a Carpenter”, which is fun but seems ill-suited to the material.  The album’s jazz theme emerges on the next track, Mose Allison’s “Smashed”; Allison’s stuff is a natural for Russell.  This is followed by “Leaving Whippoorwill”, a song with the trademark Russell sound, set to a loping beat somewhat similar to the Band’s “Up on Cripple Creek” or Elton John’s “Son of Your Father”.  Next comes a rather languid instrumental cover of “Spanish Harlem” with a sort of jazzy mood-music feel kind of like Ramsey Lewis, and the side ends with “Streaker’s Ball”, which has a minor-keyed Tin Pan Alley-ish sound reminiscent of “Puttin’ on the Ritz” or “Istanbul Not Constantinople”, but is for some reason drenched with gratuitous analog-synthesizer bloops.  The first track on Side B, “Working Girl”, is along the same general lines as “Leaving Whippoorwill” but gets a bit more of a punchy New Orleans treatment.  The next track, “Time for Love”, finds Russell trying his hand at AOR balladry, with unremarkable results.  This is followed by “The Ballad of Hollis Brown”, certainly the album’s most distinctive track; the harrowing lyrics are set to a driving, automated-sounding rhythm, with raw-edged gospel backing vocals that actually sound a little like the cries of the damned… it’s quite powerful and jarringly out of sync with its surroundings, particularly the next track, “Mona Lisa Please”, which is very lightweight cocktail jazz.  The album then ends with the title track, on which Russell seems to playfully repudiate the jazzy material that came before; it’s the story of a guy whose girlfriend likes Miles Davis and Stan Kenton and won’t listen to him sing his blues.  It begins with a trite-sounding cool-jazz riff which does sound a lot like some early Davis “heads”; the riff muscles its way in again to end the song, with Russell screaming in agony underneath.

Leon Russell - 1973 - Leon Live

Leon Russell 
Leon Live

01. Mighty Quinn Medley (11:44)
I'll Take You There
Idol With The Golden Head
I Serve A Living Savior
Mighty Quinn
02. Shoot Out On The Plantation 4:52
03. Dixie Lullaby 3:10
04. Queen Of The Roller Derby 1:53
05. Roll Away The Stone 3:56
06. It's Been A Long Time Baby 3:24
07. Great Day 3:04
08. Alcatraz 4:23
09. Crystal Closet Queen 6:33
10. Prince Of Peace 4:27
11. Sweet Emily 3:09
12. Stranger In A Strange Land 5:01
13. Out In The Woods 9:13
14. Some Day 3:21
15. Sweeping Through The City 2:32
16. Jumping Jack Flash / Youngblood Medley (16:15)
17. Of Thee I Sing / Yes I Am Medley 10:25
18. Delta Lady 3:57
19. It's All Over Now Baby Blue 6:44

Recorded live at Long Beach Arena, August 28, 1972.

Chuck Blackwell Drums
Ambrose Campbell Congas, Drums, Percussion
Joey Cooper Guitar, Vocals, Vocals (Background)
Nawasa Crowder Vocals (Background)
John Gallie Keyboards, Organ
Rev. Patrick Henderson Keyboards, Percussion, Piano, Vocals, Vocals (Background)
Phyllis Lindsey Vocals
Don Preston Guitar, Vocals, Vocals (Background)
Carl Radle Bass
Leon Russell Bass, Guitar, Keyboards, Piano, Vocals

Leon Live would probably loom larger in the memories of more fans today if only it hadn't come out after Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs and Englishmen (which was almost more a showcase for Russell and his band than it was for Cocker) and The Concert for Bangladesh, which, between them, gave everyone a lengthy preview of Russell's live act. On the other hand, it is 100 minutes of Russell's concert work in one place, which is either very compelling or a little too intense for most peoples' tastes. Russell was the leading white practitioner of big band rock in the early 1970s, and his sound was something new for most of the listeners he attracted -- the Rolling Stones may have brought aboard a horn section and pianist to their stage act, but Russell was the real article, leading an octet (complete with two pianists) and five backup singers, doing a descendant of 1950s-style R&B of a kind that had been banished from the airwaves since the early 1960s, apart from some one-off successes like John Fred & His Playboy Band. Russell plays an authentic, classic New Orleans-style R&B, melded successfully to Bob Dylan's "The Mighty Quinn" (in the "Mighty Quinn Medley") and "Jumpin' Jack Flash," among other then-recent rock songs -- mostly he animates his music and his singers and, from the sound of it, his audience for 11 minutes at a clip, with a sound that manages to be massive yet highly articulate, his band's pounding, driving impact leaving lots of room for Don Preston's and Joey Cooper's guitars to cut through. Appearing at the height of Russell's fame, this was originally a triple LP and one of the most successful of its era.

Leon Russell - 1973 - Hank Wilson's Back!

Leon Russell 
Hank Wilson's Back!

01. Rollin' My Sweet Baby's Arms, Parts 1 & 2 4:25
02. She Thinks I Still Care 4:28
03. I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry 3:10
04. Sail My Ship Alone 2:36
05. Jambalaya (On The Bayou) 2:49
06. Six Pack To Go 2:20
07. Battle Of New Orleans 2:38
08. Uncle Pen 2:15
09. Am I That Easy To Forget 2:35
10. Truck Drivin' Man 2:11
11. The Window Up Above 3:24
12. Lost Highway 2:18
13. Goodnight Irene 4:01

Leon Russell Bass, Guitar, Keyboards, Piano, Vocals
Harold Bradley Bass, Guitar
David Briggs Keyboards, Piano, Vocals (Background)
Jim Buchanan Fiddle, Violin
Billy Byrd Guitar, Guitar (Electric)
J.J. Cale Guitar, Guitar (Electric)
Jerry Carrigan Drums
Curly Chalker Guitar (Steel)
Dianne Davidson Guitar, Guitar (Rhythm), Vocals (Background)
Pete Drake Guitar (Steel)
Ray Edenton Guitar, Guitar (Rhythm), Vocals (Background)
Johnny Gimble Fiddle, Guest Artist, Violin
Buddy Harman Drums
Millie Kirkham Vocals (Background)
Grady Martin Guitar, Guitar (Electric)
Charlie McCoy Harmonica, Vocals (Background)
Melba Montgomery Vocals (Background)
Bob Moore Bass
Weldon Myrick Guitar (Steel)
Carl Radle Bass, Bass (Electric), Guest Artist
Hargus "Pig" Robbins Keyboards, Piano
Butch Robins Dobro, Guitar
Hal Rugg Guitar (Steel)
Harold Rugg Guitar (Steel)
Billy Sanford Guitar
Tut Taylor Dobro, Guitar
Bobby Thompson Banjo
Pete Wade Guitar, Guitar (Electric)
Chip Young Guitar
Joe Zinkan Bass

Leon Russell knows something about country music. Born in Oklahoma, virtually all of the country and blues made their way through Tulsa along with Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys. And while Russell is known primarily as a rock & roll performer, that doesn't mean jack. The 14 songs here offer a glimpse of where Russell's heart really lies. All classic country and bluegrass tunes, Hank Wilson's Back features Russell and a few dozen of his closest friends from both L.A. and Nashville tearing up the classics. With everyone from Melba Montgomery, Billy Byrd, Johnny Gimble, Bob Moore, Weldon Myrick, and Pete Drake to Carl Radle, David Briggs, Charlie McCoy, and fellow Okie J.J. Cale, Russell in his alter ego runs through standards such as Lester Flatt's "Rollin' in My Sweet Baby's Arms," Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" and "Jambalaya," Bill Monroe's "Uncle Pen," Hank Thompson's "Six Pack to Go," Leon Payne's "Lost Highway," George Jones' "The Window up Above," Jimmie Driftwood's "The Battle of New Orleans," and as a closer, Leadbelly's "Goodnight Irene". This is no idle affair. Russell's reads of these classic songs from the country and bluegrass canon are played with fire, verve, and reverence, and he uses every trick in the book to get at the bottom of their meaning, allowing his voice to do things it never did before or since this recording. The playing is well rehearsed and stellar, and since it is played straight, the arrangements are minimal, making Cale's production job that much easier. Hank Wilson's Back is raw, immediate, and full of the kind of drunken passion that only someone who loves the country music tradition could execute. Highly recommended.

Leon Russell - 1972 - Carney

Leon Russell 

01. Tight Rope 2:59
02. Out In The Woods 3:35
03. Me And Baby Jane 3:53
04. Manhattan Island Serenade 3:26
05. Cajun Love Song 3:08
06. Roller Derby 2:22
07. Carney 0:45
08. Acid Annapolis 2:51
09. If The Shoe Fits 2:23
10. My Cricket 2:56
11. This Masquerade 4:22
12. Magic Mirror 4:54

Chuck Blackwell Drums
Joey Cooper Guitar, Vocals
Jim Keltner BassDon Preston Guitar, Vocals
Carl Radle Bass
Leon Russell Bass, Guitar, Keyboards, Piano, Vocals

"Tight Rope" leads off Carney, and it's not just his biggest hit, it offers an excellent introduction to an off-kilter, confused, fascinating album. In a sense, it consolidates his two extremes, offering a side of fairly straightforward roots rock before delving headfirst into twisted psychedelia on the second side. On the whole, the second side deflates the first side, since it's just too fuzzy -- it's intriguing, at least in parts, but it never adds up to anything. Besides, the first side is already odd enough, but in a meaningful way; here, his fascination with Americana sideshows is married to songs that work, instead of just being vehicles for tripping in the studio. Of course, part of what makes Carney interesting is that it contains a bit of both, but interesting doesn't equal compelling, as the whole of Carney bears out.

Leon Russell - 1971 - Leon Russell And The Shelter People

Leon Russell 
Leon Russell And The Shelter People

01. Stranger In A Strange Land 3:58
02. Of Thee I Sing 4:21
03. A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall 5:10
04. Crystal Closet Queen 2:57
05. Home Sweet Oklahoma 3:25
06. Alcatraz 3:50
07. The Ballad Of Mad Dogs And Englishmen 3:55
08. It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry 3:47
09. She Smiles Like A River 2:56
10. Sweet Emily 3:19
11. Beware Of Darkness 4:34

Leon Russell Bass, Guitar, Keyboards, Organ, Piano, Vocals

Chris Stainton Guitar, Keyboards
Barry Beckett Keyboards, Organ
Chuck Blackwell Drums
Joey Cooper Guitar, Vocals
Jesse Ed Davis Guitar
John Gallie Keyboards, Organ
Jim Gordon Drums
Roger Hawkins Drums
David Hood Bass
Jimmy Johnson Guitar
Jim Keltner Bass, Drums
Claudia Lennear Vocals
Kathi McDonald Vocals
Don Preston Guitar, Vocals
Jim Price Keyboards, Organ
Carl Radle Bass

Leon Russell's accolades are monumental in a number of categories, from songwriting (he wrote Joe Cocker's "Delta Lady") to session playing (with the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, just to name a few) to his solo work. Unfortunately, it's the last category that never really attracted as much attention as it should have, despite a multitude of blues-based gospel recordings and piano-led, Southern-styled rock albums released throughout the 1970s. Leon Russell and the Shelter People is a prime example of Russell's instrumental dexterity and ability to produce some energetic rock & roll. Poignant and expressive tracks such as "Of Thee I Sing," "Home Sweet Oklahoma," and "She Smiles Like a River" all lay claim to Russell's soulful style and are clear-cut examples of the power that he musters through his spirited piano playing and his voice. His Dylan covers are just as strong, especially "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" and "It Takes a Lot to Laugh," while "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" and "It's a Hard Rain Gonna Fall" have him sounding so forceful, they could have been Russell's own. A hearty, full-flavored gospel sound is amassed thanks to both the Shelter People and the Tulsa Tops, who back Russell up on most of the tracks, but it's Russell alone that makes "The Ballad of Mad Dogs and Englishmen" such an expressive piece and the highlight of the album. On the whole, Leon Russell and the Shelter People is an entertaining and more importantly, revealing exposition of Russell's music when he was in his prime. The album that followed, 1972's Carney, is an introspective piece which holds up a little better from a songwriting standpoint, but this album does a better job at bearing his proficiency as a well-rounded musician.

Leon Russell - 1971 - Asylum Choir II (With Marc Benno)

Leon Russell 
Asylum Choir II (With Marc Benno)

01. Sweet Home Chicago 3:20
02. Down On The Base 2:18
03. Hello, Little Friend 2:52
04. Salty Candy 2:26
05. Tryin' To Stay 'Live 2:50
06. ...Intro To Rita... 2:07
07. Straight Brother 3:08
08. Learn How To Boogie 2:40
09. Ballad For A Soldier 4:24
10. When You Wish Upon A Fag 4:10
11. Lady In Waiting 3:37

Leon Russell Bass, Guitar, Keyboards, Piano, Vocals

1971's "Asylum Choir II" was originally intended as a follow-up to 1968's "Looking Inside the Asylum Choir".  Unfortunately Smash Records executives shelved the set where it sat for the next three years.  The collection was ultimately rescued in 1971 when Leon Russell (enjoying stardom as a solo act), bought the tapes and released the collection on his newly formed Shelter imprint. Ironically, by the time the sophomore album saw the light of day, Russell and singer/multi-instrumentalist Marc Benno had dissolved their musical partnership.  Musically the set wasn't a major change from the debut, though there were a couple of marked differences.  While the debut was very much a collaboration, this time around the focus was clearly on Russell.  That may have something to do with the fact Russell was responsible for the collection's release.  As on the debut, Benno was credited with co-writing most of the material (there were three tracks credited to Russell alone), but Benno's other contributions were far and few between.  He handled backing vocals on a couple of tracks, but elsewhere was largely absent.  While full of engaging melodies, lyrically the album was a topical timepiece - though I've always found it an engaging reflection of the times.  There were a couple of nifty anti-war tracks ('Down On the Base' and 'Ballad for a Soldier') and some dated social/political commentary ('Sweet Home Chicago' with it's not-to-subtle commentary on 1968's Democratic National Convention and 'Straight Brother'). Speaking of dated, amazing how time impacts language ...  "when you're bass player's flat and your drummer drags, don't you wish you had a fag"  Anyone under 30 probably doesn't realize he was talking about cigarettes, not lifestyles.  Bottom line is that it was a good effort, though largely a Russell solo effort and simply not on a par with the debut.

Initially kept in the can until Leon Russell started hitting his stride in the early '70s, Asylum Choir II is an artifact from 1967-1969. This was a fertile time for music. All the popular themes of the times show up here: protests of the Vietnam war in Down on the Base and Ballad for a Soldier; notes on the political scene and corporate profit-making in the face of the war in Sweet Home Chicago, Tryin' to Stay Alive, Lady in Waiting, and Straight Brother; and, of course, love in Hello Little Friend (which would later prove a hit for Joe Cocker when Leon was running that show). The tracks sound fairly dated in part because many songs were so topical.
Although Leon Russell is credited as contributing bass, guitar, piano, keyboards, vocals, and being the producer while Marc Benno is credited as a performer and producer, the music does not suffer from the "Winwood" syndrome, which occurs when one musician tries to do everything and the resulting product sounds flat and uninspired. Quite the opposite, the music, for the most part, is jaunty and full-bodied.
For example, on Straight Brother, the sound is a rich pastiche of fiddle, wah-wah, percussion, bass, and some great vocals from, I would guess, Rita Coolidge (set up in the Intro to Rita). Which also begs the question: who else is making some uncredited guest appearances? I find it hard to believe the late Carl Radle only served as a photographer and never plugged in his bass here. Could one of the drummer Jims (Gordon or Kneltner) be sitting in, too? No doubt, there are quite a few uncredited performers lurking on this recording, perhaps uncredited because of contract issues.
Russell, who was just gaining his musical footing about the time this album was orginially recorded, wrote some great lyrics and sings with great verve. His vocals, veering from ragged to howling, still can conjure chills on Straight Brother. And his keyboard playing is articulate and quirky, a harbinger of what was yet to come.

Not awesome, but consistently good southern boogie rock with a minimal sound. I found it much better than I expected based on many negative reviews. 'Salty Candy', 'Tryin' to Stay 'Live' and 'Ballad for a Soldier' are my favorites.

Leon Russell - 1970 - Leon Russell

Leon Russell 
Leon Russell

01 A Song For You 4:08
02 Dixie Lullaby 2:30
03 I Put A Spell On You 4:10
04 Shoot Out On The Plantation 3:10
05 Hummingbird 3:57
06 Delta Lady 4:00
07 Prince Of Peace 3:05
08 Old Masters 1:20
09 Give Peace A Chance 2:15
10 Hurtsome Body 3:35
11 Pisces Apple Lady

Leon Russell: Bass, Guitar, Keyboards, Piano, Vocals

Bonnie Bramlett: Vocals
Delaney Bramlett: Guitar
Eric Clapton: Guitar
Merry Clayton : Vocals
Joe Cocker: Vocals
Jim Gordon: Drums
Buddy Harmon: Drums
George Harrison: Guitar
Jim Horn: Saxophone
Mick Jagger: Vocals
Alan Spenner:  Bass
Chris Stainton: Keyboards
Ringo Starr: Drums
Klaus Voormann: Bass
Charlie Watts: Drums,
B.J. Wilson: Drums
Steve Winwood: Keyboards
Bill Wyman: Bass

The ultimate rock & roll session man, Leon Russell's long and storied career includes collaborations with a virtual who's-who of music icons spanning from Jerry Lee Lewis to Phil Spector to the Rolling Stones. A similar eclecticism and scope also surfaced in his solo work, which couched his charmingly gravelly voice in a rustic yet rich swamp pop fusion of country, blues, and gospel. Born Claude Russell Bridges on April 2, 1942, in Lawton, Oklahoma, he began studying classical piano at age three, a decade later adopting the trumpet and forming his first band. At 14, Russell lied about his age to land a gig at a Tulsa nightclub, playing behind Ronnie Hawkins & the Hawks before touring in support of Jerry Lee Lewis. Two years later, he settled in Los Angeles, studying guitar under the legendary James Burton and appearing on sessions with Dorsey Burnette and Glen Campbell. As a member of Spector's renowned studio group, Russell played on many of the finest pop singles of the '60s, also arranging classics like Ike & Tina Turner's monumental "River Deep, Mountain High"; other hits bearing his input include the Byrds' "Mr. Tambourine Man," Gary Lewis & the Playboys' "This Diamond Ring," and Herb Alpert's "A Taste of Honey."

In 1967, Russell built his own recording studio, teaming with guitarist Marc Benno to record the acclaimed Look Inside the Asylum Choir LP. While touring with Delaney & Bonnie, he scored his first songwriting hit with Joe Cocker's reading of "Delta Lady," and in 1970, upon founding his own Shelter Records imprint, he also organized Cocker's legendary Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour. After the subsequent tour film earned Russell his first real mainstream attention, he issued a self-titled solo LP, and in 1971 appeared at George Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh following sessions for B.B. King, Eric Clapton, and Bob Dylan. After touring with the Rolling Stones, Russell increasingly focused on his solo career, reaching the number two spot with 1972's Carney and scoring his first pop hit with the single "Tight Rope." While the success of 1973's three-LP set Leon Live further established his reputation as a top concert draw, response to the country-inspired studio effort Hank Wilson's Back was considerably more lukewarm, as was the reception afforded to 1974's Stop All That Jazz. 1975's Will O' the Wisp, however, restored his commercial luster, thanks in large part to the lovely single "Lady Blue."

In June of 1975, Russell married singer Mary McCreary; the following year the couple collaborated on The Wedding Album, issued through his newly formed Paradise Records label. Also in 1976, the Russell-penned "This Masquerade" earned a Grammy Award for singer George Benson. Russell and McCreary reunited for 1977's Make Love to the Music, and upon completing the solo Americana, Russell teamed with Willie Nelson for 1979's Willie & Leon. He then spent the next two years touring with his bluegrass band, the New Grass Revival, issuing a live LP in 1981; although Paradise shut down later that year, the label was reactivated for 1984's Hank Wilson, Vol. 2 and Solid State. Russell spent the remainder of the decade largely outside of music and did not resurface until issuing the Bruce Hornsby-produced Anything Can Happen in 1992. The album appeared to little fanfare, however, and another long period of relative inactivity followed prior to the 1998 release of Hank Wilson, Vol. 3: Legend in My Time. Face in the Crowd appeared a year later. Moving into the new century, Russell issued Moonlight & Love Songs, an album of cover songs, in 2002, followed by Angel in Disguise five years later in 2007. A trio of releases, Almost Piano, Bad Country, and In Your Dreams appeared in 2008.

Russell's years in the wilderness ended in 2010 when long-time admirer Elton John contacted the pianist about recording a duet album. Produced by T-Bone Burnett, the 2010 album The Union was greeted by strong reviews and sales, reviving Russell's career in a single stroke. After playing a joint tour with John, Russell returned to the road on his own and eventually got around to recording a solo comeback called Life Journey, which appeared in April 2014.

Leon Russell never quite hit all the right notes the way he did on his eponymous debut. He never again seemed as convincing in his grasp of Americana music and themes, never again seemed as individual, and never again did his limited, slurred bluesy voice seem as ingratiating. He never again topped his triptych of "A Song for You," "Hummingbird," and "Delta Lady," nor did his albums contain such fine tracks as "Dixie Lullaby." Throughout it all, what comes across is Russell's idiosyncratic vision, not only in his approach but in his very construction -- none of the songs quite play out as expected, turning country, blues, and rock inside out, not only musically but lyrically. Yes, his voice is a bit of an acquired taste, but it's only appropriate for a songwriter with enough chutzpah to write songs of his own called "I Put a Spell on You" and "Give Peace a Chance." And if there ever was a place to acquire a taste for Russell, it's here.

The Asylum Choir - 1968 - Look Inside

The Asylum Choir 
Look Inside

01. Welcome To Hollywood
02. Soul Food
03. Icicle Star Tree
04. Death Of The Flowers
05. Indian Style
06. Episode Containing Three Songs
07. N.Y. Op
08. Land Of Dog
09. Mr. Henry The Clown
10. Thieves In The Choir
11. Black Sheep Boogaloo

Keyboard, Vocals: Leon Russell
Guitar: Marc Benno

Jesse Ed Davis: guitar
Chuck Blackwell: drums
Carl Radle: bass
Donald "Duck" Dunn: bass

Long before Leon Russell became the albescent bearded high-priest of gritty rock’n’soul, he was a session musician in Phil Spector’s LA stable backing acts as diverse as The Byrds and Herb Alpert. Around this time Russell met the young Marc Benno, a talented blues guitarist just up from Austin, Texas who had moved to LA to also take up session work. Benno had been crashing in a closet at Russell’s place where a veritable who’s who of the 60’s rock scene would hang out and jam. It was here that Benno met Eric Clapton and many of the other famous musicians with whom he would collaborate later in his career. Benno described it as being “in the right place at the right time.” Russell and Benno decided to formally join forces as “Asylum Choir” and released the first of two LP’s in 1968, Look Inside the Asylum Choir, on the Smash imprint.

Look Inside the Asylum Choir rightly earns the oft overused label “psychedelic” for tracks such as “Icicle Star Tree” or “Death of the Flowers” which are psychedelic pop in the classical late 60’s sense, however musicians as diversely talented as Russell and Benno couldn’t help but include R&B, soul, ragtime and jazz elements along with numerous diegetic sound-bites and ironic lyrics into an eclectic musical collage that assumes a psychedelia of a higher order. The lofty words of 40+ years worth of hindsight don’t change the fact that the album was a commercial flop, despite favorable reviews from the groovy critics of the time. Perhaps the greatest commercial misstep was a marketing one: the album was originally released with a closeup photograph of a roll of toilet paper on the front cover. While perfectly in line with the deeply tongue-in-cheek lyrical irony of the album, the ablutional image offended the much more delicate sensibilities of the day.

It is this pervasive irony that both sets this album apart as a smart if gentle critique of the contemporary 60’s culture and dates much of the lyrical content. Despite this the album is quite enjoyable and musically delightful. The jaunty opener, “Welcome to Hollywood”, with its punchy horns and bouncy beat lyrically sticks a pin in Tinseltown’s balloon in jubilant vocal harmony. This is followed by the relatively straight honkey tonk ode to “Soul Food” and is a strong hint at the musical direction Russell would take later in his career. With the third track, “Icicle Star Tree”, the album takes a left turn into the sunshiny technicolor terain of psychedelic pop. The dreamy melody complete with abstruse and surreal lyrics floats over alternating cascades of shimmering keyboard and soulful telecaster for an overall heavily lysergic vibe. The album keeps this mood with the elegiac “Death of the Flowers” which tells the poignant story of Elaine “who is visibly moved by the death all around her…” The first side of the album closes with “Indian Style” that opens with a sound collage of tribal drumming eventually giving way to the sounds of cavalry, machine gun fire and war. This wordless statement abruptly ends as the upbeat honkey tonk song proper kicks in, evolving the initial statement with ironic lyrics about the mis-appropriation and commodification of indian culture by the flower children.

The second side opens with a six minute musical hodgepodge entitled “Episode Containing 3 Songs: N.Y. Op. Land of Dog Mr. Henri the Clown” that has a number of memorable moments such as a 30 second bit of “Mr. Henri the Clown” that is reminiscent of Beck’s “The New Pollution” off of Odelay, and witty lyrics about a flea who has a “little flea-osophy on organized insanity.” The heavy theme of the next track, “Thieves in the Choir”, is anticipated by the dolorous peal of church bells. The song warns of “Magic policemen who don’t need a reason to color your eye.” In deliberate contrast to this subject matter the song ironically borders on ebullient as Russell sings about how he “figured out, good guys with bullets are really quite bad.” The swinging blues closer “Black Sheep Boogaloo” rips it up pretty thoroughly, punctuated by Zappa/Beefheart-esque interludes of self-referential weirdness.

Despite its poor sales at the time, Inside the Asylum Choir remains an enjoyable listen both as a period piece and as an interesting insight into the future directions of two musicians of the highest caliber.