The Songs Of Leon Russell.

Label: Ace Records.

Format: CD.

Leon Russell embarked upon a career as a professional musician in the late-fifties, and over the next six decades, the versatile singer-songwriter worked with some of the biggest names in music when he worked as a touring musician and session player. He worked with everyone from The Beach Boys, Dick Dale, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra and Elton John who called Leon Russell his “mentor” and “an inspiration.” 

The pair would collaborate on the Grammy Award winning album The Union in 2010 which was certified gold in Canada and Silver in Britain. This was one of many albums Leon Russell collaborated on. 

In 1979 he recorded One For The Road with country music legend and future Outlaw Willie Nelson. The album was certified gold in America and Canada.

So were 1971s Leon Russell and The Shelter People, 1972s Carney, 1973s Leon Live and 1975s Will O’ The Wisp. In total, Leon Russell released thirty-three studio and live albums. His debut album Leon Russell was released in 1970, and in 2017 On A Distant Shore was released posthumously. 

Sadly, Leon Russell died on November the ‘13th’ 2016 aged just seventy-four. He had toured during 2016 and had recorded his final album On A Distant Shore. Music was in mourning at the loss of the two time Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

He was a prolific songwriter whose songs were covered by the great and good of music. This included everyone from Elton John, Joe Cocker and Delaney and Bonnie and Friends to Donny Hathaway and Randy Crawford to Bobby Whitlock and Maria Muldaur right through to Freddie King, Nazareth, California and George Benson. They’re just some of the artists who feature on The Songs Of Leon Russell which is the latest instalment in Ace Records’ long-running and successful Songwriter Series.

Opening the compilation is If It Wasn’t For Bad which is a track from Elton John and Leon Russell’s 2010 Grammy Award-winning collaboration The Union. It reached number three in the US Billboard 200, twelve in Britain where it was certified silver and gold in Canada. Despite having not spoken for over thirty years the two friends had recorded a critically acclaimed, commercially success and and award-winning album. One of the album’s highlights was If It Wasn’t For Bad.

Delta Lady was covered by Joe Cocker for his eponymous  album and released on Regal Zonophone in 1969 and certified gold in America. This blues rocker was later released as a singe by the Sheffield-born singer and reached number ten in Britain but stalled at sixty-nine in the US Billboard 200. Despite this, Joe Cocker was enjoying one of the most successful periods of what was a long and illustrious career.

In 1969, Groupie (Superstar) was released as a single on Atco by Delaney and Bonnie and Friends featuring Eric Clapton. He takes charge of the lead vocal while Rita Coolidge adds backing vocals on this moving ballad which features an all-star band.

José Feliciano covered Me And Baby Jane for his Compartments album which was released by RCA in 1973. He had produced the album with Steve Cropper and delivers a tender and heartfelt vocal on this beautiful ballad.

By 1981, Randy Crawford was signed to Warner Bros and released her fifth album Secret Combination to widespread critical acclaim. It was certified double platinum in America and was the most successful album of her career. Nowadays Secret Combination is regarded as a classic album and that’s no surprise when it features beautiful ballad like Time For Love which is one of the highlights of the album.

Leon Russell and Donna Washburn penned Raspberry Rug which was covered by Bobby Whitlock in 1968. He released it as a single on the HIP label but commercial success eluded a track that combines pop rock and psychedelia. 

My Cricket was covered by Rumer for her Boys Don’t Cry album which was released on Atlantic in 2012. It features as subtle and understated arrangement that allows the soul-baring vocal to take centrestage. It’s a reminder of one of British music’s most talented singer-songwriters who sadly hasn’t enjoyed the commercial success her talent deserves.

Make Love To The Music was reworked by Maria Muldaur on her 1978 album for Warner Bros, Southern Winds. This familiar songs is transformed into a sensual shuffle with arranger and producer Christopher Bond adding sweeping strings which sweeten the arrangement.

Scottish hard rockers Nazareth covered Alcatraz for their third album Razamanaz. It was released on the Mooncrest label in 1973 and was the group’s first album to chart. Lead vocalist Dan McCafferty struts and swaggers his way through the song delivering one of his inimitable vocal powerhouses.

In 1978, California released a disco version of The Beach Boys’ I Can Hear Music as a single on the RSO label. Those who turned over to the B-Side found a funky and soulful cover of Leon and Mary Russell’s Love’s Supposed To Be That Way. It’s a hidden gem and a welcome addition to The Songs Of Leon Russell.

The final song on The Songs Of Leon Russell is This Masquerade which is reinvented by George Benson. Jazz and funk combines on what’s one of the highlights from his 1976 classic album Breezin’ which was released on Warner Bros. This eight minute genre-melting opus is the perfect way to close the compilation.

These tracks are just a few of the many highlights of The Songs Of Leon Russell. It’s the latest instalment in Ace Records’ long-running Songwriter Series and the twenty-one tracks feature the period between 1966 and 1979. To do it justice to such a long and illustrious career would require further volumes. 

That’s the case with so many of the songwriters that have featured in the Songwriter Series. They were prolific and enjoyed a longevity that many other songwriters didn’t enjoy. 

Other songwriters were prolific but their career only lasted a relatively short period. That wasn’t the case with Leon Russell whose career as a singer and songwriter spanned six decades. His songs were covered by the great and good of music and even today his songs are heard on radio every day. This includes many of songs on The Songs Of Leon Russell which are a reminder of one of the greatest and most successful songwriters of his generation sadly passed away in 2017 but left behind a rich musical legacy.

The Songs Of Leon Russell.

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