Forty years ago Elton John toured the U.S. with his "idol", singer/songwriter and fellow keys banger Leon Russell. Described by John as "the one piano player and vocalist who influenced me more than anybody else", Russell had already established himself as a brilliant songwriter ("A Song for You", "Delta Lady" among many) but producer (Joe Cocker) and live performer as well, collaborating with the cream of early 70's rock royalty including George Harrison, Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood. It's hard to imagine Elton making an albums such as Tumbleweed Connection without Russell's distinctive southern gospel, rock and blues/country style. He now honors Russell with The Union, a new collaborative project produced by T-Bone Burnett and featuring guests such as Neil Young, Brian Wilson and longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin, arriving October 19 via Decca. It was, says John, a "humbling and moving experience."
“All I wanted for Leon,” John says, “is to have, in his later life, the accolades that seem to have been missing for him in the last 35 years. I want his name written in stone. I want him in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I want his name to be on everybody’s lips again, like it used to be. So we made this record.” With John, now 63, and Russell, 68 and in ill-health, it's to be expected that vocally the album would have some gruff and warbley elements to contend with. But these are two masters obviously enjoying themselves, focusing on exhibiting their craft and not pretending to be something they're not. Rootsy, tinged with soul and gospel styles, The Union is an old school testament to not only Russell but John as well, stepping up to acknowledge in word and deed the music that helped shape his own.
Elton John and Leon Russell - "If It Wasn't for Bad" (from the album The Union)
Elton John and Leon Russell - "I Should Have Sent Roses" (from the album The Union)
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