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Published: 2014/04/23
by Ron Hart

Leon Russell
Life Journey

Universal Music Enterprises

Ten years ago, Leon Russell was playing to half-full Long Island bars.

But thanks to the help of Elton John and producer T-Bone Burnett and their Grammy-nominated 2010 collaborative LP The Union, this legendary figure of American pop is enjoying the comeback he so richly deserves, cumulating in the release of his first proper album in eight years. Executive produced by Captain Fantastic himself and produced by the renowned Tommy LiPuma (Barbara Streisand, Miles Davis, Paul McCartney, Diana Krall, Dr. John), Life Journey is sure to please any fan of such past Russell classics as Carney and Will o’ the Wisp as well as his groundbreaking work as one half of the Asylum Choir.

Leon’s music has always seemed custom built to bounce off the walls of the famed studios at the Capitol Records building in Los Angeles. And the piano man takes full advantage of this atmosphere on these twelve new tracks as John and LiPuma bring together a stellar ensemble of musicians featuring the likes of Russell’s longtime guitarist Chris Simmons, Rolling Stones extended family member Willie Weeks on bass and former Count Basie sideman John Clayton on horn arrangements to help bring home the singer’s grab bag of covers that range from Robert Johnson’s “Come On in My Kitchen” to Paul Anka’s “I Really Miss You” to Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” to the Duke Ellington and Paul Francis Webster standard “I Got It Bad & That Ain’t Good”. Meanwhile, the pair of originals on hand—the rollicking “Big Lips” and the love letter to New Orleans jazz “Down in Dixieland”—shows the 72-year-old songwriter behind such timeless hits as “A Song for You” (famously rendered by Donny Hathaway and Ray Charles alike) and The Carpenters’ “Superstar” can still turn a phrase like a true master.

Indicative of its telling title, Life Journey is an emotional reminder of Leon Russell’s unshakeable legacy as one of the top tunesmiths of the last half century.

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