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Leon Russell

Carney

Review by Scott Prinzing

Leon Russell’s recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame should be enough reason for taking a second look at this classic rock icon.  Cited by Elton John as a major early influence, the two recently recorded an album together.  His role in the inner circle of rock royalty led to his inclusion in the backing band for George Harrison’s legendary Concert for Bangladesh 40 years ago.  In addition to his piano tracks on countless others’ songs, Russell has provided numerous hits for others with his own classic songwriting.

This album is the best representation of Leon Russell’s songwriting and sound I know. This includes some great songwriting and musical performances, with accompaniment that supports (rather than undermines) Russell’s singing and piano work. It has an immediate sound to it, despite sounding like a time capsule from 1972.  It’s the highest charting album of his dozen or so to make the Top 200 ladder in his almost 50 year recording career.  And number two is a pretty impressive rung to reach.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2011  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Tight Rope

There’s nothing I could think of adding or subtracting from this song; not even the carnival calliope instrumental section.  It sets things up loosely as a concept album, but holds its own, resulting in Russell’s highest charting single in his career at number eleven.  When I first heard this song as a teenager, I thought it was Dr. John.  There’s a similar New Orleans/honky tonk/down south boogie to most of Russell’s work, and that’s what you’ll find here.

Out in the Woods
Russell does a cool duet with himself on the verses of this swampy tune.  It ends with an odd group chorus in a foreign language of sort.
Me & Baby Jane

This is a piano and organ ballad that shows a bit of Russell’s gospel influences.  It appears to be about a first love who was either lost to drugs or died of an overdose.  (You can’t read too much into these things, even when they sound obvious.)

Manhattan Island Serenade

This is a low-key song about being broken down on the roadside without even a guitar to keep the singer company, all the while, missing his love.  It seems like a song that could’ve been written down on a scrap of paper: “Nowhere to run, and not a guitar to play / Messed up inside and it's been rainin' all day.”

Cajun Love Song

Just like the title suggests, this is a love song in the Cajun style of New Orleans.  There’s a blend of accordion and fife for effect.

Roller Derby
This is in the honky tonk piano boogie style that Russell interpreted “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Youngblood” as at the Concert for Bangladesh. 
Carney
This less-than-minute long instrumental that kicks off the more psychedelic side two of the vinyl is basically a twelve-bar blues played calliope-style with a bit of New Orleans trumpet,
Acid Annapolis
If any one ever wondered how LSD influenced popular music beyond The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix, this soundscape of bizarre trippery is a fine example of how multi-tracking made the recording studio a playground for the more creative types of the era.
If the Shoe Fits

Here’s another classic Russell tune that is set more in a country blues.  It’s a not-so-glowing ode to the rock ‘n’ roll groupie: “Uh, what was your name?  You're someone I've seen /  Has anyone said that you look like James Dean? / Can I sit in your lap?  Can I give you the clap? / Can we rap?  I don't have a-much to say.”

My Cricket
This sounds a bit like the gritty piano balladeering that made such an impact on a young Elton John. Russell is lamenting for his lost love, singing this song alone with a cricket! 
This Masquerade
This song is one of Russell’s most beautiful compositions ever.  It’s been covered by many other artists, including George Benson, who had a hit with it.  Amazingly, it was released as the B-side for “Tightrope,” but it has obviously passed the test of time.  It’s more of a jazz/easy listening ballad, but the chord structure and lyrics have made it a standard for the ages: “Thoughts of leaving disappear each time I see your eyes / And no matter how hard I try / To understand the reason why we carry on this way / We're lost in this masquerade.”
Magic Mirror

Russell does a lot of Dylanesque wordplay in this song that is basically just him on the piano.  Musically, it recalls Dr. John again, but more so due to their common influences and histories.  The lyric speaks of searching to find a connection with people of all walks of life.

You'll find concert pics of this artist in the Music Street Journal members area.
 
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