indice alfabetico - site map  I  immagini  I  articoli  I  elton in italy  I  testi in italiano  I  musicians & co.  I  concerti  I  discografia
forum  I  news   I  biografia  I  early days  I  friends I links  I  aggiornamenti  I  newsletter  I  contatti  I  varie  I  rarità  I  home
The Union recensioni

tell me what the papers say ...
(giornali esteri)

The Union

andate qui per



Paul Williams


The resulting album is something quite special, displaying a real intensity between the pair as they rediscover each other after so long. Elton’s game is clearly raised by being in the presence again of Russell, while the older man replies in kind with a performance that shows years away from the limelight have not diminished his talents. The performance captured is helped by the decision to record the album as live, providing a level of emotion and interaction between the players that would not have occurred if it had been made layer by layer, but the quality of the songwriting also stands up, shared between Elton, his long-time lyricist Bernie Taupin, Russell and T Bone Burnett, an inspired choice as producer.

Though the quality holds up throughout, it is on the slower numbers where the magic is most evident. “I hear you singing I Shall Be Released like a chain saw running through a masterpiece,” Elton sings directly to Russell at the beginning of The Best Part Of The Day as the album reaches its first climax then hits further peaks on When Love Is Dying and Never Too Old (To Hold Somebody) with the two talents singing with a depth of emotion and feeling that can only come from individuals with this number of years of experience and who have lived these lives.

Elton has gone on record as saying his main objective with this project is to bring to life again Russell’s incredible back catalogue and in trying to achieve that he could not have done a better job. With an all-star cast including Booker T, Brian Wilson and Neil Young, this is the kind of album you can imagine figuring very prominently at the Grammy Awards and quite rightly, too.

A happy reunion indeed
Manawatu Standard; Palmerston North, New Zealand, Sep 15, 2010

REVIEW * * * * 1/2 The Union - Elton John And Leon Russell

W hen Leon Russell began his musical career, it was as a session keyboardist. A specialist blues boogie player, he was part of Phil Spector's studio team in the 1960s. Then he struck out on his own, building his own studio and crafting his own songs.
His first hit was Delta Lady, performed by Joe Cocker. After that, he had success with the song Superstar, which was made famous by the Carpenters and later revived by Sonic Youth.
When Elton John visited New York for the first time, his idol was Russell, a piano-playing singer who he says influenced him more than any other.
After Elton John's show at the famous Troubadour club in 1970, and after just one meeting, the pair decided to tour together.
The Union is an album where they reunite after decades of differing fortunes. The project has contributions from lyricist Bernie Taupin, Brian Wilson, Neil Young, producer T-Bone Burnett and many of the top session players in American music.
The production talents of Burnett are showcased by the interaction between players, the arrangements and the crystal-clear vision shown with each track.
What impresses me about The Union is that it seems to bring out the best in both Russell and John, and Young's vocal performance on the track on which he sings is brilliant too.
It's as if everyone is raising the level of their playing because of those around them.
With a vocal style that is understated, almost effortless, Russell contrasts with Elton John, who sings with an ever-present emotive gusto.
The tracks that stand out the best are those that have gospel choir backing, horn sections and full accompanying stomping rhythm, complemented by duelling pianos and the overall musicianship of the band.

Recensione da allmusic.com, tre stelle e mezza

On the inaugural episode of Elvis Costello’s talk show Spectacle in 2008, Elton John — who just happened to be a producer on the show — rhapsodized at length about Leon Russell, hauling out a note-perfect impression of Russell’s piano style and Oklahoma drawl. It was enough of a tease to whet the appetite for more but nothing suggested something like The Union, a full-fledged duet album with Russell designed to raise the profile of the rock & roll maverick. Like all lifers, Russell never disappeared — he just faded, playing small clubs throughout the U.S., spitting out bewildering self-released albums of MIDI-synth boogie, never quite connecting with the spirit of his wonderful early-‘70s albums for his Shelter label. The Union quite deliberately evokes the spirit of 1970, splicing Russell’s terrific eponymous LP with Elton’s own self-titled record and Tumbleweed Connection. In that sense, it’s a kissing cousin to John’s last album, 2006’s The Captain and the Kid, which was designed as an explicit sequel to 1975’s golden era-capping Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, but thanks to producer T-Bone Burnett, The Union dials down Bernie Taupin’s inherent pomp and ratchets up the roots. Burnett had John and Russell record live in the studio, trading verses and solos, letting the supporting band breathe and follow their loping lead. This relaxed, natural interplay cuts through the soft haze of Burnett’s analog impressionism, giving the record a foundation of true grit. If there are no immediate knockouts among this collection of 14 original songs, the tunes are slow, steady growers, taking root with repeated spins, with the sound of John and Russell’s piano-and-voice duets providing ample reason to return to The Union after its first play. And even once the songs take hold, what lingers with The Union is that natural interplay, how John and Russell easily connect with their past without painstakingly re-creating it. Surely, it’s a revival for Leon Russell, who has spent decades in the wilderness, but it’s not a stretch to say The Union revitalizes Elton John just as much as it does his idol: he hasn’t sounded this soulful in years.

da Uncut di novembre

cliccare per ingrandire
Uncut novembre 2010 - The Union

da www.showbiz411.com

Elton John Gives Leon Russell Lead Single on Great New CD

di Roger Friedman in Music         8 ottobre, 2010

I’m kind of kvelling (which is Yiddish for tweeting, I think) about Elton John and Leon Russell’s album, “The Union,” set to be released on October 19th.

Sorry I can’t wait ten more days. And also, it’s a collaboration among Elton, Leon, and Bernie Taupin, the lyricist who must be given dollops of credit. This trio has fashioned a landmark album, the kind of thing we used to take for granted in the good old Seventies and even Eighties.

“The Union” is indeed a union of these remarkable talents, but not only them. The group of musicians included comprises Neil Young on a surprise vocal, Rose Stone (sister of Sly) on backing vocals, and a group of legendary vets like Jim Keltner, Marc Ribot, George Bohanon, Robert Randolph, and Don Was. The whole package is produced by T Bone Burnett with wit, grace, intelligence, and a true understanding of all these musicians’ artistry.

First of all, how cool is Elton John? He’s given the lead single to Leon Russell. “If It Wasn’t for Bad” just made this year’s eligibility date for the Grammys—the album comes out 19 days too late. But if the NARAS voters don’t put this in Best Song and Best Record, then the whole awards process is a waste. With no less than Booker T. Jones on B3 organ and trombones wailing away—and a tuba!—“If It Wasn’t for Bad” is real music. It’s a glorious slice of authentic Southern sweet potato pie dripping with melted English toffee.

And then “The Union” begins. There are some of the best Elton John-Bernie Taupin songs ever, like “Monkey Suit” and “When Love Is Dying” as well as an unexpected hit from Leon and Bernie, a couple of great Russell numbers, and an Elton-Leon knockout called “A Dream Come True.” Neil Young sings on “Shiloh,” which is sort of the title track. And there’s a magnificent track called “There’s No Tomorrow,” composed by Elton, Leon, T Bone Burnett and James Timothy Shaw.

Elton told me about this project last winter, and we talked about how much Leon Russell had influenced his early records like “Tumbleweed Connection” and “Honky Chateau.” Coming back to this inspiration now, Elton sounds rejuvenated. I can only hope that he gets to sing Russell’s “Tightrope” when they perform in concert, and Russell can break loose on “Honky Cat.”

By the way, neither Leon Russell nor Bernie Taupin is in that ridiculous Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But Donna Summer is on this year’s list of induction nominees. So that tells you how much that group’s reputation has been diminished.

Don’t hesitate—go now to Amazon or ITunes or wherever and pre-order “The Union.” It’s the best album that will be released in 2010, and maybe 2011 as well. (Certainly including 2009 and some of those other years.)

da www.contactmusic.com

Elton John -  The Union (feat Leon Russell) Album Review

Review of Elton John's album The Union featuring Leon Russell released through Mercury Records

Elton John needs no introduction. In his four-decade career John has sold more than 250 million records, had more than 50 Top 40 hits, won five Grammy awards, an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award and a Tony Award. Now releasing his thirtieth (yes thirtieth!) album, talking about his collaboration with legend Leon Russell, Elton states 'I don't have to make pop records anymore.' True enough, Elton proves on this album why he is still around making music with such vindication.

The album kicks off with If it Wasn't for Bad, a gentle track that strolls along with jazzy influences - the best analogy to describe this track would be a melancholic cocktail party. Elton continues in this quite bitter tone throughout the album, especially with Gone to Shiloh, which really does highlight the perfect union between John and Russell. Tragic and haunting, Shiloh is reminiscent of a late Johnny Cash as the two men stand 'shoulder by shoulder, side by side'.

Russell's country-folk influences are definitely evident here. Elton turns to blues in Eight Hundred Dollar Shoes, where there is a great combination of the epic and the simple as they are able to successfully combine a very early Elton sound with blues influences. Similarly, Jimmy Rodgers' Dream, as the title suggests, is a very 60s Americana country western track that you would probably expect to hear on the Brokeback Mountain Soundtrack. But this doesn't mean that Leon Russell dominates the record. In There's No Tomorrow, the signature 'Elton' sound returns with conviction with a nice guitar solo in tow that is a highlight of the entire LP. Similarly Hey Ahab, by far the best track off the album, allows Elton to show off his piano techniques whilst creating a very seductive and flirtatious single. The use of a gospel choir is also a nice touch too.

One cannot criticise Elton or Russell. Although many of the tracks sound quite similar and thus becomes quite monotonous after a while; this is Elton John we are talking about. After 40 years in the business, he is able to still keep fresh and create some great music. Using various techniques to transgress across music genres and attempting to still seem relevant, it is obvious that Elton is far from laying his piano to rest.

4 /5

Nima Baniamer

da Rolling Stone USA

***** (nessun album di Elton ha mai ricevuto 5 stelle da Rolling Stone)

David Fricke

2010 10 19

The Union is a rare gesture in a dying business: an act of gratitude. Elton John repays a long-standing debt of inspiration to Leon Russell — particularly the rowdy merger of soul, country and gospel rapture Russell perfected as a writer, pianist and arranger on 1969 and '70 albums by Joe Cocker and Delaney and Bonnie — by putting Russell in front of a classy big band, on his first major-label album in a decade. "Your songs have all the hooks/You're seven wonders rolled into one," John sings, ever the fan, in "Eight Hundred Dollar Shoes."

The song, actually about grand entrances and past glories, is almost Russell's story in miniature. It could be about John too. Both men are a long way from their early flamboyance, when Russell ran the R&B big band on Cocker's Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour and John was leaping from clubs to arenas in oversize glasses. The Union often feels like a conversation: the two trading sober and grateful reflections, in songs like "The Best Part of the Day" and "A Dream Come True," on the costs and prizes of a life at the top.

That exchange runs through the music. Singing in a strong, elastic growl and matching John's piano work with low-end rolls and top-note sparkle, Russell jars the younger man from his routine sheen, back to the natural fiber and grandeur of 1970's Elton John and Tumbleweed Connection. On The Union, produced by T Bone Burnett, John and Russell share the resurrection. Each goes back to what he first did best. Then they do it together.

As a songwriter, Russell is as eccentric as his voice. His love songs hurt far more than they show at first. "If It Wasn't for Bad" is finely tuned deception: pop strut, Sunday-service glow and mounting bitterness in that gnarled drawl. Bernie Taupin wrote the words to the Stax-heartbreak shuffle "I Should Have Sent Roses," but the chewy vocal agony is Russell's. When he and John trade lines in "When Love Is Dying," against a choral arrangement by Brian Wilson, John goes for the wrenching high notes. Russell sticks to his odd gritty register, heavy with turmoil.

Russell first became famous for his sharp mischief inside the churn on those Cocker and Delaney and Bonnie LPs, and he works for John the same way: salting the vocal choruses and piano-funk exchanges in "Hey Ahab"; ringing John's earnest rounded tenor with gravelly warmth in the dusky country song "Jimmie Rodgers' Dream." John, in turn, drives this alliance like the eager version of himself that first played with Russell on a 1970 tour. The Civil War tale and Band hommage "Gone to Shiloh" could have come from Tumbleweed Connection; the brassy romp "Monkey Suit" would have fit on 1972's Honky Château.

There is an urgency here too, as if John and Russell know they almost waited too long to bond. "There's No Tomorrow" is built, with new words, on a 1966 grim blues march, "Hymn No. 5" by the Mighty Hannibal. John takes the sober verses; a pedal steel guitar lines the track like gilt on a coffin. But Russell brings the light and common sense. "There's no tomorrow/There's only today," he sings in that rough, eerie voice, just in front of the choir, like a man back from the brink and glad to be at work.

da thehurstreview.wordpress.com

Elton John and Leon Russell: “The Union”

by Josh Hurst

There’s a lot of love on this one– not only does Sir Elton sound like he’s trying harder than he has in years, generally speaking, but he’s pulling out all the stops not for the sake of his ego, but his idol. The story goes that the impetus for The Union was for John to use his celebrity to restore his all-time musical hero, Leon Russell, to the public eye, but what those noble ambitions rolled into is a full-blown duet album, complete with dueling pianos and trade-offs on vocal and songwriting duty (the latter is also split with Benie Taupin).

John’s taking this one seriously, and his ambitions– for this to be a monstrously successful album, mostly for Leon’s sake– haven’t been very veiled. His vision of the project extends to his choice of producer; he put in a call to T-Bone Burnett, despite having never worked with the man before, simply out of the hope that this record might blossom into something as high-profile and celebrated as Raising Sand. Burnett’s not a bad choice for this rootsy, country-infused, but still very mainstream affair, though I’m inclined to say that, for the next go-around, Joe Henry or Buddy Miller might make for favorable alternatives. The good news: It isn’t as sleepy as Raising Sand. The bad news is that T-Bone is in a bit of a rut as of late, and The Union carries with it all the baggage that a T-Bone production entails in 2010. The edges of this thing are so rounded, the atmosphere so hazy, that nothing here really pops, sonically speaking– something that’s a little bit of a problem when you come to a rocker like “Hey Ahab,” which never catches fire the way recent John bangers like “Just Like Noah’s Ark” did, or when you realize that the blazing inferno of Robert Randolph‘s steel guitar cameo is somewhat lost in the mix. It’s also a rather overlong project– 14 songs, which is about two ballads too many– though in truth, I’d rather this one be a little on the lengthy side: It’s a good omen that this creative rejuvenation, for both Russell and John, isn’t a minor or a temporary thing.

And it is– make no mistake of this– a creative rejuvenation; it’s not an all-cylinders-firing masterpiece on the level of, say, a Love & Theft, not as daring as Paul Simon’s Surprise or as vital as Neil Young’s Le Noise, offering not new contexts so much as reminders of why the old stuff was so good. It is, in other words, very much a wheelhouse album, sounding like the common ground between Russell’s 70s albums and John in his country/Western mode, as per Tumbleweed Connection. The distance between those two isn’t that far, so the feeling of this record is one of comfort, but not of complacency. Both men are writing, singing, and playing with vigor. T-Bone’s production emphasizes the country leanings with steel guitar and gospel choirs; his obtrusive touch can do nothing to sand down the grit or dampen the warmth that comes from the chemistry between the two musicians, the the simple joy they’re obviously finding in playing together, their mutual respect and affection making this feel like a perfectly gracious, generous collaboration. It’s a comeback for Russel by simple virtue of the fact that he’s making vital music for what will probably be a respectable audience, after literally decades of being lost in the woods. For John, it at least equals, and perhaps slightly bests, his own excellent, albeit minor, comeback album from 2006, The Captain and the Kid.

The record’s greatest charms come from how laid-back and low-key it is; the album never calls attention to the fact that it’s actually the most varied thing John has been involved with in quite some time, nor does it play up the bluesier aspects of “The Best Part of the Day” the way that the more cinematic Tumbleweed may have. Really, that song could almost pass as a ballad from John’s more adult contemporary days, its country-ish melody being the thing that saves it and makes it fit here. The low-intensity vibe of this thing means that some of the best songs take some time to really distinguish themselves– I’m thinking, in particular, of the steel-drenched country shuffle “Jimmie Rodgers’ Dream,” the jaunty handclap beat of “A Dream Come True,” the minor-key, metaphysical blues tune “There’s No Tomorrow.” It also means that some of the most addictive material here is also the least flashy; the two most durable cuts on the album, it seems to me, are a pair of sturdy country-rockers– “If It Wasn’t For Bad” and “I Should Have Sent Roses”– which impress with their sheer craft, the gentle propulsion and forward momentum implicit to the music and the lyrics.

What else? Neil Young stops by to cameo in “Gone to Shiloh,” a ghostly Civil War ballad in which he, Russell, and John each take a verse. “When Love is Dying”– which hits even closer to John’s AC days than “Best Part of the Day” does– is nevertheless winsome for its totally low-key sincerity, and for the nice, natural vocal trade-offs from the two singers. “Monkey Suit,” drenched in horns, is a welcome chance for John to rock out a bit. And even if it’s no “Noah’s Ark,” I do rather like “Hey Ahab,” its lyrical concerns of obsession and failure sounding like a nice metaphor for the artistic life and the pursuit of the muse– good, slightly meta- themes for an album like this.

Other than that, the only direct references to The Union‘s origins are in “Eight Hundred Dollar Shoes,” a handsome little ballad on the bluesy tip. John sings it, and its lyric is one of admiration for a man who was once heralded as a visionary, but was all but forgotten while he was still in his prime. As a reverent, affectionate nod to Russell, it’s fairly obvious, but no less touching because of it. It’s a modest and heartfelt moment, perfectly befitting a record of this sort– one that isn’t perfect, but is certainly warm, charming, and easy to embrace.

da blogcritics.org

Music Review: Elton John and Leon Russell - The Union

di Mindy Peterman          12 ottobre 2010

Leon Russell has been missed! Elton John must have voiced a similar sentiment when he sought him out for this wondrous collaborative effort.

A bit of history here: way back in the early ‘70s, when Elton was just beginning his ascent to superstardom, he was Leon Russell's opening act.  Leon was his hero and Elton's never lost his admiration and respect for him.

Fast forward to 2010. Sixty-eight-year-old Leon hadn’t been in the limelight for many years. Poor health had kept him from actively keeping up with his career. After he recovered from a brain operation, Elton (who has always been an advocate for underappreciated artists new and old) thought it would be an excellent time to get the great man recording again.

The Union is an even better effort than their fans might have hoped for. Both men sound assured, energized and, yes, young again.

Despite all he’s been through, Leon’s voice hasn’t changed. That gritty drawl is unmistakable and as vital as ever. He rocks the upbeat “Hearts Have Turned To Stone.” Horns wail in the background, a soulful chorus providing the backup, along with Elton’s enthusiastic "yeah, yeah, yeahs."

The ballad “Gone To Shiloh” tells the story of a Northern soldier going off to fight in the Civil War–nice to see that lyricist Bernie Taupin still holds a fascination with Americana after all these years. Neil Young lends a hand with the vocals, which is a fine treat. With its wails and moans, the dirge-like ballad “There’s No Tomorrow” sounds like the melancholy opening of a New Orleans funeral march.

The rocker “Monkey Suit” sounds suspiciously like an outtake from Elton’s last studio album, The Captain and the Kid. The same holds true for "The Best Part of the Day," a song of a longtime friendship (“You’re my best friend/You shared my crazy ways"). But there is nothing wrong with that. Kid was one of Elton and Bernie’s best efforts, and these songs are as good as anything on that record.

Probably my favorite cuts on The Union are the gorgeous “When Love Is Dying” and the chug-a-long rocker, “A Dream Come True,” where Elton and Leon trade verses and piano licks, backed again by a gospel choir. It’s a rollicking, joyful piece, which harkens back to those touring days of their youth. It is no surprise they wrote it together.

The album was produced by T-Bone Burnett and features Jim Keltner on drums, Jim Thompson on tenor sax, Marc Ribot on guitars, Robert Randolph on steel guitar, along with contributions from Brian Wilson, Don Was, and Booker T. Jones. It marks the first time since his late seventies disco fiasco, Victim of Love, that Elton has recorded an album without his band. The end result here is monumentally better than that old disco snoozer.

The final song on The Union,“The Hands of Angels,” is Leon’s thanks to those who helped him return to the business of making music:

“Johnny and the Governor came and brought me to my senses/They made me feel just like a king/Made me lose all my bad defenses.”

Thank you, Leon. And welcome back.

The Union is on Decca Records. It will be available on Oct.19th.


BBC Review
"A sincere collaboration between artists who complement each other well."

Paul Whitelaw 2010-10-15

When musicians of a certain age collaborate on a duets album, the results often reek of creative stagnation and the sound of mutual back-slapping. Not so with The Union, a sincere collaboration between Elton John and an artist to whom he owes an avowed debt, Leon Russell.

Their relationship stretches back 40 years, to when Russell attended Elton’s (calling him ‘John’ feels wrong) first US solo show. A veteran session player for legends such as Phil Spector and Bob Dylan, by 1970 Russell was an established solo star and bandleader for Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour. His raspy fusion of piano-based gospel, blues, country, rock and pop influenced Elton’s breakthrough albums.

Since engineering a return to his earlier sound with 2001’s Songs from the West Coast, Elton has focused on restoring his reputation as a craftsman of ersatz Americana. Working alongside Russell – making his first major label recording in a decade – brings him full circle.

Recorded live in the studio with acclaimed producer T Bone Burnett, the album radiates a kind of arid warmth; two old timers trading hard-won lessons in the dying sunlight. Burnett’s barebones arrangements are garnished only with a ten-piece gospel choir and a barely noticeable choral arrangement from Brian Wilson on the melancholy When Love is Dying.

Elton and Russell’s vocals and piano playing complement each other, neither overcooking the stew. The timbre of their voices is so similar it’s often difficult to tell them apart. They don’t harmonise, they duet, swapping chops and verses conversationally, Russell supplying hoodoo trills to Elton’s country honk.

Most of the songs are written by Elton and long-time lyricist Bernie Taupin, with occasional contributions from Russell and Burnett. Russell’s funky fingerprints are legible on the Stones-clad boogie of Monkey Suit and the antsy stomp of Hey Ahab. Other standouts include the funereal gospel of There’s No Tomorrow, the unabashed train-whistle rockabilly, A Dream Come True, and the haunting, Band-esque Gone to Shiloh, a Civil War lament featuring a vocal cameo from Neil Young.

But the strength of these tracks highlights the album’s weaknesses: too many mid-tempo ballads, too many generic melodies. At 14 tracks stretched just over an hour, it’s simply too long; shorn of its more forgettable songs, it could’ve been a glancing contender.

As it stands, The Union is a blot on neither man’s legacy, just a mature bout with flashes of former glory.

da www.philly.com

Elton John and Leon Russell
The Union
(Decca ***)

Forty years after they first toured together, Elton John throws new light on the talents of one of his heroes: Leon Russell, the hirsute, often top-hatted session player and author of "Tight Rope" and "Delta Lady."

For The Union, John drafted producer T Bone Burnett, who brought some of his usual collaborators (such as guitarist Marc Ribot) to back John and Russell, who duet on vocals and/or piano. The result: a collection of new Russell and/or John songs, many with lyrics from John's longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin, that veers from spicy New Orleans honky-tonk to earnest gospel to sentimental pop. While Taupin's platitudes bog down "Never Too Old," nothing diminishes the lively interplay between John, 63, and Russell, 68, on "A Dream Come True" and "Hey Ahab." Unsurprisingly, The Union doesn't equal Russell's Carney or John's Tumbleweed Connection, but it often does a fine job of revisiting their spirit.

- Steve Klinge


Review: Sir Elton-Leon Russell pairing falls flat

Elton John and Leon Russell, "The Union" (Decca)

Elton John hails this collaboration as a chance to restore his idol and one-time mentor Leon Russell to prominence. Sadly, the pairing fails to rejuvenate Captain Fantastic.

"The Union" was John's idea, and it held promise. Russell's resume includes work with George Harrison, Phil Spector and Joe Cocker, and although he fell into obscurity in recent decades, his blend of gospel and Southern boogie influenced John's transcendent work in the early 1970s.

Alas, there's no "Border Song" or "Burn Down the Mission" to be found here. Instead it's mostly more middling late-period Elton, underwritten and overproduced.

John recruited T Bone Burnett to oversee the project, raising the enticing prospect of stripped-down recording sessions with lots of lively piano and two-part harmonies. Instead we get a horn section, 10-member gospel choir and parade of guest artists. Booker T. Jones and Robert Randolph sit in, and Neil Young and Brian Wilson contribute vocals. Even Sharon Stone drops by.

The layers of sound leave no room for any chemistry between the co-stars. Burnett mostly buries their pianos in the moneyed mix, and while it's good to hear Russell's distinctive voice again, he can't turn back the clock for his former protege.

CHECK THIS OUT: John and Bernie Taupin wrote most of the material, and their best effort is the twangy country shuffle "Jimmie Rodgers' Dream." For a change, John sounds like he could be singing something from "Tumbleweed Connection" rather than, say, "Aida."

da www.slantmagazine.com

Elton John and Leon Russell
The Union

by Joseph Jon Lanthier on October 18, 2010

Was anyone shocked to hear Elton John admit, while running down a brief list of influences on Elvis Costello's business-casual talk show Spectacle, that he'd engineered his early style by following Leon Russell's blueprint? After all, his faux Russell number at the end of that broadcast, while effectively fun, wasn't anywhere near as immaculate a Pentecostal blues facsimile as "No Shoestrings on Louise" (with its diphthong-heavy elocution) or "The Cage" (with its "Ah-ah, woo-woo" gospel chorus), both from his eponymous sophomore breakthrough. Still, if John unabashedly aped the left hand-led piano style of tracks like "Hummingbird" and, later, the textural use of synthesizers that characterized Russell's Will O' The Wisp, he's wisely sustained himself through creative droughts by avoiding Russell's neurotic and often alienating persona.

Both are consummate professionals, but where Russell abhors the undignified and self-destructive tight-wire act of audience whoring, John will prance about in feathers and silk singing his early hits until your retainer is exhausted. This infectiously joie-de-vivre—and joie-de-cash—showmanship, while limiting public image-wise (can you imagine Russell pouting and shrieking "I'm a bitch, I'm a bitch"?), has also proved to have rejuvenating properties; it might simply be that John can afford more skilled plastic surgeons, but his puckish jowls can still believably deliver jejune anthems like "Tiny Dancer" and "Michelle's Song." Russell, on the other hand, though only five years John's senior, looks to have confusedly wandered away from a Civil War reenactment—or confusedly wandered into one, as might be gleaned from the The Union's Yankee-tinged title and T-Bone Burnett-provided roots.

Pairing off masters and apprentices, especially when both are safely out of their heyday's earshot, can often yield comfort zones that facilitate growth, if not immediate rewards; Eric Clapton's collaboration with J.J. Cale, whose loping, brittle blues he borrowed for albums like Backless, marked the end of a decade-long succession of studio mediocrity. The trouble with The Union, though, is that John and Russell can no longer access the pure, innocent foundations from which they sprang—and their humble beginnings, while fecund at the time, aren't worth attempting to duplicate. Both toiled as session musicians and composers in the '60s (Russell was part of the Wrecking Crew, John and lyricist Bernie Taupin wrote easy sludge for Roger Cook) before hitting it big with slickly arranged, self-titled albums that alternated between ersatz energy and heartwarmth. Their respective declines haven't been the result of sellouts, but of the naturally diminishing returns of their primary product (songwriting). And despite some spirited work from Russell in particular, who underwent major surgery during the LP's recording, as a rock-pop product, The Union doesn't improve enough on the safe acoustic balladry of Peachtree Road or the aggressively digital soul Russell's been selling on the net for the last 15 years.

The tunes here, written by John, Russell, Taupin, and Burnett, reek of routine, and were unshockingly cobbled together over the course of a few studio dates. "If It Wasn't for Bad," the album's first single and one of the few songs unmarred by Taupin's oddball narrative looseness, sounded genuine enough until I recognized the verse as a simplified appropriation of Al Stewart's "Year of the Cat"—though that's the most depressingly derivative the chord progressions get. "I Should Have Sent Roses," the other noteworthy Russell track, is better, built around a series of jabbing, descending piano dyads that sound appropriately contrite, but its sturdiness is like a nail in the coffin of the despotic bandleader who leapt from "Quinn the Eskimo" to refrains of "Youngblood" with rallying yelps. John's musicality, meanwhile, continues its relaxed indifference ("Hey Ahab" and "Monkey Suit" are reluctant to wander from their unimaginative opening riffs) and Taupin's cutely specific jokes have gotten weirder and less funny ("I hear you singing 'I Shall Be Released'/Like a chainsaw running through a masterpiece").

Burnett has also assembled a slew of seasoned mercenaries to accompany the core piano duel: Jim Keltner provides a reliable, if predictable, backbeat, and Booker T. Jones's Hammond occasionally sneaks up to flood the background singers' midrange. But despite the assiduous cast, only the lead vocals occasionally transcend The Union's underwhelming tone. The timbre of John's voice, now too mature for the thin, unconvincingly funky inflections it once employed, has the gentle stability of an iron anchor coming to rest against a pillow of red dirt; where Russell wavers and cracks and the melody lines become tedious, John's effortless confidence adds harmony.

The sonic hierarchy is a curiosity. Russell always sounds close enough that you think you might feel his breath if you lean in toward the speaker, and John seems to be proudly shouting from across a field. But the variation of distance gives the impression of an organized stage too, bolstering the few strong performances with flamboyant drama. Brian Wilson's multi-tracked, choral cameo on "When Love Is Dying" is almost entirely spatial and Neil Young's warbling on the album's best track, "Gone to Shiloh," seems to invent acoustic cavities it can reverberate throughout. The latter song is, somewhat embarrassingly, an inane Northern answer to "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," but there's something irreproducible about the combination of Russell's throaty nearness, John's earthen tenor, and Young's yellowing falsetto.

What Young adds, of course, is spirituality, a numinous devoutness toward music that his careerist colleagues lack, as does the rest of The Union. That the album is a failure despite the authentic passion behind it only accentuates its participants' respective ruts. And it's further proof that the most consistent musicians are more pilgrims than they are professionals.

da www.hitfix.com


Album Review: Elton John & Leon Russell's 'The Union'

Published on Monday, Oct 18, 2010 5:56 PM Melinda Newman

It’s no coincidence that the first voice we hear on Elton John and Leon Russell’s new album, “The Union,” is that of Russell. The album is a complete labor of love by John as a thank you to one of his musical heroes. We’re so glad he didn’t decide to just send a fruit basket.

As John tells it, he and his husband, David Furnish, were on safari and Furnish began playing some of Russell’s music. Memories came flooding back for John, who opened for Russell in 1970 and had always been a big fan. He reconnected with Russell, who had faded into near obscurity, and suggested they work together.

If you don’t know who Leon Russell is, you’re John’s target audience here. Russell is an Oklahoma singer/songwriter, who, in addition to his solo work, has collaborated with Bob Dylan, Joe Cocker, George Harrison, Delaney & Bonnie, Eric Clapton, John Lennon,  Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones and just about everyone else you can think of. He also wrote “A Song For You,” which was a big hit for many artists including The Carpenters and Luther Vandross, and his only major pop hit as an artist, 1972’s “Tightrope.” His piano playing is inspired and his voice unique--think Willie Nelson with a bit more of a nasal twist.

With “The Union,” John wanted to create an album that reminded people of Russell’s prodigious talent and introduced Russell to a new audience.  John has been unabashed in stating that he hopes the project will “improve” Russell’s life.

None of that would amount to anything other than a lovely sentiment if the collaboration didn’t work. But it does...and how.  Throw in producer T Bone Burnett, whom John handpicked based on Burnett’s work on Robert Plant/Alison Krauss’s  “Raising Sand,” and the trio has created a testament to talent that doesn’t fade even if the spotlight has shifted elsewhere.

Written by John, his longtime partner Bernie Taupin, Russell and Burnett in different combinations with each other, the songs--many mournful, some rollicking--all highlight John’s and Russell’s ability to boogie woogie on the keyboards. Under Burnett’s steady hand, the production is kept minimalist with no unnecessary embellishments.  Russell and John’s piano playing and vocals (surrounded with stellar musicians) are all the bells and whistles you need.  In fact, we would have pared it back even further, stripping away the female backing vocals on all but “There’s No Tomorrow,” a dirge-like, striking tune built around “Hymn No. 5” by the Mighty Hannibal.

The album succeeds best when Russell and John play off each other, such as on “Hey Ahab.”  John sings lead, but in the distance, Russell vamps backing vocals that give the song extra heft and depth, or on the set’s crowning glory, “Shiloh,” a somber ballad about the bloody Civil War battle.  Neil Young joins the twosome for lead on a verse and the sound of the three distinctive voices wrapped around each other on the chorus is a singular delight.  The boisterous "Monkey Suit" is 100% fun.

As if a pupil showing off for his teacher, John is at the top of his vocal form here. He sounds reinvigorated and enthusiastic. Many of the songs, such as the chugging “Jimmie Rodgers’ Dream,” which references the  Singing Brakeman, would have easily fit in on John’s ‘70s classic “Tumbleweed Connection.”

There’s something intoxicatingly refreshing about an album that is made simply for the joy of making music with an old friend. The good news is that we’re all invited to the reunion.

da www.avclub.com

The Union


Elton John has said that The Union, his collaboration with rock/pop/R&B legend Leon Russell, is an effort to bring Russell the attention John feels he deserves—including entry to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. To that end, The Union features an all-star cast: producer T-Bone Burnett, lyricist Bernie Taupin, and a list of guest performers that includes Neil Young, Booker T., and Brian Wilson, all supporting John and Russell as they go piano-a-piano, rolling through a set of rootsy soft-rock pitched halfway between Russell’s classic early-’70s albums and John’s Tumbleweed Connection. It’s admirable that John and Russell didn’t take the safe route and just record an album of covers, but the songwriting on The Union is rarely up to either man’s peak. The record has its highlights: The album-opener “If It Wasn’t For Bad” is a swampy lament that uses the dual-piano approach well, allowing the two men add a flourish to every line; “Gone To Shiloh” is a moving Civil War ballad on which Young sings one aching verse; and “Jimmie Rodgers’ Dream” practically justifies the whole project, with steel guitar putting a spring in John and Russell’s poignant evocations of life on the road. But too much of The Union is blandly bluesy, using gospel choirs and bar-band guitar to add an artificial jolt to too-tame songs. As an attempt at enshrinement, The Union over-applies the lacquer.

 da www.frontiersweb.com

Music Review: Elton John & Leon Russell - The Union


Dan Loughry   9/27/2010

Sir Elton John has always been a bit of an American-o-phile. His best work in the early ‘70s with lyricist Bernie Taupin was either steeped in the mythos of the American west (Tumbleweed Connection and Honky Chateau) or hopped up with a shot of blues that anchored his most popular tracks (“Philadelphia Freedom,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”). He’s been trying to fight his way back to those glory days on his last few solo releases with mixed results (though both Songs from the West Coast and Peachtree Road were honest failures). So even though The Union is a meeting of equals, let’s thank good old Leon Russell for helping to keep Sir Elton anchored to the ground for 14 earthbound songs steeped in the blues, gospel and American swing. “Monkey Suit” sounds like a Rolling Stones outtake from Sticky Fingers. “Eight Hundred Dollar Shoes” is a ballad completely free of treacle. And “Jimmie Rodgers Dream” is a paean to a journeyman songwriter from two of his most learned acolytes. The Union isn’t perfect, but it’s the best thing either artist has put their name on in at least two decades.

da consequenceofsound.net

Album Review: Elton John and Leon Russell – The Union

By E.N. May on October 19th, 2010        ****

No musician of any caliber would be anywhere without his or her influences. No matter how prolific the artist, someone had to light that initial fire. For Sir Elton John, it was Leon Russell, and, like Eric Clapton did with his idol B.B. King, the two piano men have made a record together and a fantastic one at that. But would you expect any less when they’ve done nothing but write equally phenomenal material for decades? The resulting record, The Union, is a crossing of two aging piano men: John, the one who took the pop reins from The Beatles and dominated the charts in the 1970’s, and Russell, the muse to such pop genius, who reinvented the piano for John in the first place. And while it may seem that the student has become the teacher, it’s clear that Russell still has a lesson or two left in him. Oh yeah, and he brought Neil Young too.

Russell never had anywhere near the same chart success as John in terms of numbers, but what he does have is that same sense of timelessness in his songwriting. It’s the way Russell plays that hits a sweet spot with the listener, showing that true honesty can have a place in popular music without getting lost in the production. Yes, John ultimately took the more boisterous route, but that time has come and gone, and, over the decades since he packed away the sequins, his music has come back to where it began, with Russell.

This is where we find ourselves on The Union. Told with gospel Americana piano-rock cerca 1972, the record is a reflection on a long life lived. As to be expected, John and Russell trade vocals and hammer out the keys with slick blues guitar to boot. A choir flanks them throughout, and the resulting sound is truly cathedral. When it comes to the writing, though, there’s nothing unexpected, as it’s more about the experience of hearing two great piano men than reinventing the wheel. It’s a treat to be able to hear the close relationship between these two players and their music–their individual styles blending seamlessly.

While John’s voice has grown more distinguished with age, Russell’s has become more rugged in the way that only comes after 40 years of banging away at the keys. The combination ends up taking both musicians back to their country ways of the early 1970’s. Blues, gospel, country, and pop are all part of the spectrum on this album. John takes on the ballads with “Eight Hundred Dollar Shoes” and “When Love is Dying”, while Russell opens things with the excellent Americana rock of “If It Wasn’t For Bad”. After this, though, it’s not such a cut-and-dry back-and-forth between songs. “Hey Ahab” has pieces of 1970’s glam rock added to the gospel, with John’s voice grabbing you by the balls as the choral section backs him up. Thinking about it, though, Russell could have taken the lead, and it would have been just as big.

They certainly play off each other’s strengths, but there are moments that make you feel like it’s more about Russell than the mutual exchange. You get that on “Jimmy Rodgers’ Dream”, which is distinctly Americana the way Russell does it with slide guitars and longing lyrics. John’s balladry gets a hand on “There’s No Tomorrow” only to be taken over by Russell’s pristine gospel. For these select moments, it’s obviously Russell’s show with John along for the ride.

I’ll admit that I was surprised by how enjoyable this record is. Not that I thought it was going to be bad, just not this good. As it turns out, The Union brings great additions to both catalogues with several songs suitable for repeating and turning up. This is a record I’ll be going back to for a while.

da www.bostonherald.com


“The Union” (Decca): B

Jed Gottlieb

On his cable talk show, Elvis Costello asked Elton John to name forgotten singer-songwriters. He immediately thought of Leon Russell. The comment sparked Elton’s two-year quest to get himself in the studio with his idol, a collaboration that should introduce Russell to a new generation. But John’s the real winner. Russell and producer T Bone Burnett give John a much-needed artistic kick in his designer, sequined pantaloons. With help from a few A-list guests (Neil Young, Booker T. Jones, pedal steel god Robert Randolph), John and Russell have conjured the Old West-meets-Tin-Pan-Alley sound of their early ’70s heydays. As always, John and his lyricist, Bernie Taupin, can get overly cute (“Monkey Suit”) and way too sappy (“The Best Part of the Day”). But Russell pushes the music toward dirtier, more earthy ground with his “If It Wasn’t for Bad” and his top co-write with Elton, “A Dream Come True.” Download: “Gone to Shiloh” for Neil Young’s wonderful wounded vocal.   

da www.somethingelsereviews.com

Elton John and Leon Russell - The Union (2010)

by Nick Deriso

Elton John's long and often dispiriting journey back to his 1970s muse led him to an early idol, Leon Russell. The result is "The Union," a sturdy new collaboration full of spiralling soul and timeless revelations about starting over.

Produced by T Bone Burnett and set for issue by Decca on Oct. 19, the album refurbishes John's tattered legacy even as it restores the legend of Russell -- a consummate musician who saw his career stalled by a stubburn refusal to play to expectations.

"I want his name written in stone," John has said of Russell. "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."

That sense of passage is underscored throughout "The Union," an often-loud record with its share of quiet truths -- like thundering boxcars sweeping past lonesome prairies.

They talk about good times and bad, about a lover's bruising departure, about history's hard-won truths, about the end. Maybe their time has come and gone.

But what a time it was.

The Band-influenced Civil War-era lament "Gone To Shiloh," also featuring Neil Young, sounds like a leftover track from John's brilliant "Tumbleweed Connection." "If It Wasn't For Bad" shambles out with a popping gospel groove and Russell's oddly affectionate yowl -- deftly recalling his best "Carny"-era work. "Monkey Suit," this brass-driven romp written by John and longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin, is like "Honky Chateau" redux.

John, who first met Russell in 1970 and later opened for him on tour, has called the legendary songwriter and pianist one of his greatest influences -- and he sounds every bit the true fan on "Eight Hundred Dollar Shoes": "Your songs have all the hooks," John sings. "You're seven wonders rolled into one."

Together, they have produced an album that feels like an honest collaboration, rather than a one-off gimmick. Listen to "Hey Ahab," which has the sway and sass of a country church-service hymn. Russell adds a just-right greasy accompaniment to John's bracing, gritty vocal.

"When Love Is Dying," bolstered by a soaring choral arrangement by Brian Wilson, could have been a radio staple for Elton John in a different time. (That is to say, in the time of sparkly jumpsuits and oversized sunglasses.) Russell finds a similar symmetry with his own deliciously snarky hitmaking past on "I Should Have Sent Roses," a collaboration with Taupin: "Well if I were you," Russell sings, "I'd throw rocks at the moon -- and I'd say, 'Damn you, wherever you are.'"

But even as they deftly recapture the atmosphere and nerve of their best early 1970s work, there is a newfound sense of last-act perspective -- and an emotional turmoil so often missing in Elton's glossy modern period.

Credit Russell, who reportedly underwent brain surgery just weeks before recording commenced on "The Union." He adds a dangerous grandeur to tracks like "Never Too Old (To Hold Somebody), "The Hands of Angels" and, most particularly, on the majestically grim "There's No Tomorrow," inspired by an old blues march.

Evenings spent with old friends, even in happy times, are often built around a sweet sense of loss -- and this one is no different.

da  www.suntimes.com

Elton John energizes his own sound while trying to help Leon Russell


di Thomas Conner

Writing in the liner notes of his new CD collaboration with Leon Russell, his musical hero, Elton John details his U.S. debut in 1970 with Russell in the audience, how the two of them struck up a kinship, toured together and enjoyed initial parallels of fame as rock 'n' roll pianomen. "Anyway," John writes, "then I lost touch with Leon and our paths kind of went different ways."

That's an understatement. By the mid-'70s, all the world knew of John's crocodile rock. His body of work, it was announced last week, has earned him an entire Elton John channel on Sirius XM satellite radio.

Russell, meanwhile, served as maestro of Joe Cocker's notorious Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour, had a big hit with "Tightrope," knocked everyone out with a fiery performance at the Concert for Bangladesh -- and then almost all of us lost touch with Leon. He took a hard right and recorded a straight-up country album ("Hank Wilson's Back," 1973), then turned left for some avant-garde self-exploration ("Stop All That Jazz," 1974). He never stopped recording or touring, but while John eulogized princesses, became the belle of Broadway and sold out in Vegas, Russell was rolling his broken-down bus into tiny bars in small cities.

After a personal revelation last year about how deeply Russell influenced his music, John sought him out after 40 years. They reconnected, made plans to record. It could have been just another hokey duets album for John, 63, but to his credit "The Union" (out Tuesday) reunites the two piano-pounders under his stated and restated intention of injecting Russell, 68, back into at least a tributary of the mainstream.

"There's no point doing this record if it doesn't bring his work to light," John recently told Billboard. "I want him to be comfortable financially. I want his life to improve a little."

Fortunately, the resulting record amounts to something significantly greater than a charity project. It's a marriage of true love and admiration, much like "Road to Escondido," Eric Clapton's 2006 reunion with J.J. Cale. (Cale and Russell are both icons in their native Oklahoma as pioneers of the easygoing "Tulsa sound," which influenced performers from Tom Petty to Garth Brooks.) While "The Union" sags slightly under the weight of each performer's latter-day penchants, it ultimately succeeds because of the youthful energy they rediscover with each other's aid.

For this union to take place, John had to step back a bit from the obese, overwrought records he's made of late, which he seems to have done with relief and glee. "I don't have to make pop records any more," he told Billboard, indicating that "The Union" marks a new, less commercial chapter in his career. Huzzah!

Meanwhile, Russell -- frail and sometimes in ill health, including brain surgery just as recording sessions began in January -- had to step up his game, return to something resembling form. Russell's concerts the last decade or more have been static, lifeless affairs. He'd sit nearly motionless before a tinny little electric piano, a snow-white Cousin Itt with sunglasses, and mash out a rushed string of once beautifully arranged gems.

But he turns it around for these recordings. John, in his liner notes, celebrates the moment Russell "suddenly got his confidence again and started to play the grand piano instead of the electric piano, and all this great piano playing came flooding back and we made this incredible record."

The kick-back from real piano keys as opposed to the plastic of an electric keyboard -- that simple physical resistance, that subtle artistic challenge has been what Russell's needed for years. He faces it here and comes alive again, opening the album with "If It Wasn't for Bad," as classic a Leon track as we thought we'd never get again. Over a touch of gospel and that moseying Tulsa pace, he seems to address his own criticisms in the song's central pun: "I know that you could be just like you should / If it wasn't for bad you'd be good."

Eight of these songs were penned by John and his writing partner of 43 years, Bernie Taupin. The first, "Eight Hundred Dollar Shoes" voices John's own perspective on his hero: "Your songs have all the hooks / You're seven wonders rolled into one." From then on, the pair play piano and sing side by side, volleying like two tennis players trained by the same coach. Russell's feline yowl adds grit and growl to John's "Monkey Suit" (as "honky" as this cat's been in decades), while John's creamier voice leavens the slow regret of Russell's "I Should Have Sent Roses." For Russell, the proceedings often return to gospel, especially near the end of "The Union" as he shuffles through "Hearts Have Turned to Stone" with four churchy backup singers, then closes the album with the personal, organ-driven hymn "In the Hands of Angels."

"The Union" is filled out by a mutual admiration society of musicians who couldn't help but drop by the studio once they heard Russell was in town. Neil Young sings on the Civil War ballad "Gone to Shiloh." Brian Wilson sings and arranges some of "When Love Is Dying." Jim Keltner (another Tulsan!) plays drums throughout, and producer T Bone Burnett expertly guides and reins in the whole asylum choir.

Look for John and Russell on the road together this fall, starting with Tuesday's show at the Beacon Theatre in New York. Bonus: Cameron Crowe filmed the recording of "The Union"; he plans to screen a documentary in February at the Sundance Film Festival.

da www.nydailynews.com

The Union

Article Rating

Elton John and Leon Russell's 'Union' review: 

Twilight sweetness from one piano man to another

Nothing brings out the best in somebody like the will to ­impress his idol.

Ask Elton John. As a young hopeful, the pianist worshiped Leon Russell, a fellow czar of the 88s whose career preceded his. The criminally underrecognized Russell turns up on virtually every important pop recording from the early '60s to the mid-'70s, from Phil Spector's grandest hits to the Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds" to the Stones' "Let It Bleed." He led Joe Cocker's brilliantly ragtag "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" and stole the show at George Harrison's "Bangladesh" concert.

As a solo star, Russell wrote and sang standards like "A Song for You," "Superstar" and "This Masquerade" -- all warbled in every airport lounge and bowling alley to this day. Russell continues to tour avidly, but he hasn't had a high-profile platform in far too long.

That's where Elton comes in. The pair played together on a brief tour in 1970, then lost touch. Four decades later, Elton tracked down his old hero to entice him into making a tandem CD. The result proves moving for more qualities than just its backstory.

The Elton/Leon tête-à-tête doesn't attempt to revive either star's days of spit and vigor. There's no hot piano-on-piano action here. Instead, "The Union" captures the men as they are now: older, wiser and full of grace. Ballads -- good ones -- dominate, showing their mutual honed craft. "If It Wasn't for Bad," the kickoff track, is classic Leon -- wry and rooted in American soul. It's the sole song he wrote alone, due to medical problems just before the recording, so it's no surprise that Elton/Bernie Taupin compositions dominate, or that Elton seems to take more lead vocals.

Unfortunately, at this point Elton isn't as emotive a singer as his elder. Still, he and Taupin worked hard to make their songs sound like something Russell would've written way back when.

Cuts like "Gone to Shiloh" or "Jimmie Rodgers' Dream" might have turned up on ­­mid-period Russell albums. Other pieces have the feel of Elton's most country-leaning album, "Tumbleweed Connection."

The lyrics make sweet use of the stars' ages. A song like "There's No Tomorrow" takes on a more literal meaning in their hands, since they may be starting to run low on them.

It's far from the stars' athletic prime. But there's a twilight sweetness to this release, forming a likable gesture of gratitude from one piano man to one who paved the way.

da The Denver Post

New CDs in Review, 10/19/10

di Ricardo Baca

Elton John and Leon Russell, "The Union"(Decca)

It's not the most natural collaboration, but the new Elton John/Leon Russell record makes for a fascinating listen. It has some uplifting songs, some clever lines, some lovely vocal interplay. And while the two pianists' voices couldn't be more dissimilar, they make these songs work.

The mutual admiration between John and Russell is obvious. John spends four pages in the liner notes telling their story — from their first meeting at the Troubadour in 1970 to the creation of this record, which spanned multiple continents and involved the talents of mega-Americana producer T Bone Burnett.

And it's a treat to listen to these boys' jams, especially since their songwriting voices are as distinctive as their physical voices. "If It Wasn't For Bad" is a rollicking, fun-loving jaunt that benefits from Russell's signature sense of humor. The song's key, titular line brings on a smile: "If it wasn't for you, I'd be happy . . . If it wasn't for bad, you'd be good."

John's "The Best Part of the Day" is a memorable ballad that works off Bernie Taupin's clever lyrics: "I hear you singing 'I Shall Be Released'/Like a chainsaw runnin' through a masterpiece/But that's all right, that's OK/Grab.K./Grab the bottle and slide my way."

Some songs feature the gents backing each other up. Others have them dueting. Others yet involve the talents of guests Brian Wilson, Neil Young and Booker T. Jones.

Even if this "Union" looks strange on paper, John knew what he was talking about when he first called Russell. These legendary piano men needed to make a record together, and don't be surprised if this CD spawns an expansion of their now-limited tour schedule. 

da lefsetz.com

Elton John & Leon Russell

It’s mediocre.

This album should not have been produced by T-Bone Burnett, but Rick Rubin.  Rick is famous for getting his acts to get back into the headspace they inhabited when they did their best work and forcing them to write and write and write until they come up with material just as good as they composed in their heyday.  Where was the editor on "The Union"?  Where was the guy saying…HEY, WE DON’T HAVE THE TUNES!

Great concept.  I love both Elton and Leon.  Great that Elton is now about the music and not the hits.  But if you’re about the music, it’s got to be great.

I mean we endured all that buildup and the endless hype for THIS?

We knew mediocrity was in the offing when the first single was released.  Huh?  I don’t know anybody who liked it.

Today we only have time for great.  Forty years ago, when these acts broke, we’d buy the albums based on the rep, play them because we possessed nothing else, and ultimately know them.  Anybody who plays this record that much is either involved or related.  With so much music at our fingertips, why listen to this?

There are too many midtempo songs that you wait to go somewhere that don’t.

Sure, there are a couple of tracks that capture a bit of magic.  "Hey Ahab" for Elton, "A Dream Comes True" for Leon.  But there’s nothing close to their strongest work.  There’s no "Stranger In A Strange Land", never mind "A Song For You" or "Delta Lady".  If only Elton’s contribution yielded something as good as the obscure but great "Can I Put You On".

I remember dropping the needle on "Friends".  The title track hooked me immediately.  There’s not one track that hooked me on "The Union".

And the mainstream blather.  The reviews in every paper known to man.  How old school a selling technique for supposedly a breakthrough concept.

Wanna know a breakthrough concept?  Record an album so good that it has legs and sells itself!  Something that people hear and testify about, play for their friends.

I remember being at my next door neighbor’s hearing Mary Chapin Carpenter’s "Come On Come On".  I didn’t think I was interested,  I certainly wasn’t a fan.  But I was infected listening to this album in the background, I had to ask what it was, I had to get it and play it and play it and play it.

That’s not the experience anybody’s gonna have listening to "The Union".

First and foremost the material must be great.  This sounds exactly like the hype.  That they found a window when both performers were available, wrote the songs in two weeks and recorded them immediately.  I’m not saying that can’t work, maybe Elton did it that way in the old days.  But it doesn’t always work.  Not every date is a success.  You may have sex, but you don’t meet your soulmate.  Wasn’t there anybody in this process who could put up his hand and say WAIT A MINUTE, WE JUST DON’T HAVE THE MATERIAL!

Projects like this illustrate that classic rockers still live in the old world.  We don’t need an album, we don’t need fourteen so-so tracks, we need ONE PHENOMENAL ONE!

Elton’s burned his rep here.  We’re gonna be suspicious when he touts his next project.

This is how it works in the modern world.  Either you put out a limited amount of great material or you inundate your fans with a constant stream of stuff, let them investigate and judge it, separate the wheat from the chaff, extricate the nuggets.

DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE!  This album is a dud.

And today a dud is anything that’s not great.  Sorry, that’s the way it is, I don’t make the rules, the public does.  A public that’s inundated with diversion and only has time for the very best.

P.S. It’s not about the short term, but the long haul.  Otherwise, most YouTube clips would have a lifespan longer than a day.  It’s not about the initial hype, it’s not about the first week sales, it’s about the cumulative effect.  Don’t frontload your campaign, your project will be forgotten as quickly as last weekend’s movies.  No, now the game is to make something so good that it finds its own way in the marketplace, doesn’t instantly die but grows and grows over time.  Sure, Elton & Leon are touring this now, but wouldn’t it be better to put out an album that people want to hear six months or a year from now, when they’re truly fans of the music and not just curious because of the hype?

da www.mirror.co.uk

4 stelle

Elton John & Leon Russell - The Union: Album review

Now 63, and with 250 million albums sold, Sir Elton John has no need to make records for personal gain. Coffer-filling, latter-day soundtrack and musical commissions (Lion King, Billy Elliot), and Las Vegas live residencies leave him free to repay the sources on which he made his reputation.

In the last decade, this has resulted in some of the greatest music of his career. Four years ago, The Union's predecessor - The Captain And The Kid - brought the story of Captain Fantastic (Elton) and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (lyricist partner Bernie Taupin) brilliantly up to date.

The theme of the past coming full circle with the present continues here.

Oklahoma-born Leon Russell's formidable musical legacy - the stellar 60s sideman for Phil Spector and others, who became a flamboyant, visually striking musical legacy the stellar 60s sideman for Phil Spector and othe thers, who became a flamboyant, visually striking 70s frontman - echoes Elton's early career path. In recent years, pianist Russell's profile, health (the 68-year-old had brain surgery just before this recording began) and circumstances have been reduced, but he's remained a pivotal figure in Elton's musical universe.

And now, together with Taupin and producer T Bone Burnett, Elton shows Russell didn't slip off the radar because of artistic decline.

The chemistry between the two piano-playing titans is energising. Also, the album's 'bringing it all back home' feel reflects the old America explored both in Russell's work and the early Elt/Taupin classics such as Tumbleweed Connection and Honky Chateau. Neil Young even makes a dramatic guest appearance on the Civil War-based Gone To Shiloh.

Whether delivering snazzy rockers (Monkey Suit) or wistful, regret-tinged romances (I Should Have Sent Roses), Elton and Leon's shared feel for the music that inspired, and still inspires, them is unmistakable.

The Union continues an honourable musical tradition where pupil-turned-star acknowledges and reactivates a past influence.


 4 stelle

Elton John and Leon Russell: The Union – review

Elton's gospel-tinged team-up with pop legend Leon Russell is a credit to them both, says Alexis Petridis

It was easy to miss Leon Russell's cameo appearance on last Saturday's X Factor, dedicated to songs by the judges' musical heroes. For one thing, his name wasn't mentioned. For another, it was hard not to be distracted by news that Simon Cowell's musical heroes apparently include Kelly Clarkson and Boney M; here was a pretty jaw-dropping insight into his record collection. Mind whirling with the thought of what an all-back-to-mine listening session round Simon Cowell's might entail – you rather picture him sagely announcing he's going to hit you with an obscure old-school dance classic ("this one's strictly for the heads") then playing the Grease Megamix – it was easy for even the most knowledgeable music fan to overlook Russell's contribution to the evening: much fuss was made about the emotional power and loveliness of A Song for You, performed by John Adeleye, but no one credited the 68-year-old Oklahoman who wrote it in 1970.

You could argue that's Leon Russell's current standing all over. Some of his songs are enshrined not merely within the pantheon of classics, but among the stuff known even by people whose only interaction with music comes via Magic FM – he also co-wrote the Carpenters' exquisite Superstar – but hardly anyone associates them with him. It's hard to name another figure who once seemed so central to the rock aristocracy – performing with George Harrison and Eric Clapton, helming Joe Cocker's ascent to superstardom, his songs covered by Bob Dylan and Ray Charles – who has vanished so completely from the public consciousness, a victim of bad business deals, changing times and his own reticence.

In recent years, you could find Russell playing some pretty unprepossessing-sounding venues: The Snail Pie Lounge, Glenville; The Snorty Horse Saloon, Springfield; the Safeway National Barbeque Championships. Enter Elton John, who, while Russell has been busy rocking Gater's Sports Bar and Grill, Gun Barrel City, has been engaged in a clearly heartfelt and largely successful attempt to claw back his own musical credibility. There have been well-reviewed back-to-basics albums, relentless patronage of young artists – it sometimes feels as if no group of teenagers stumbling through Wild Thing in a garage is safe from Sir Elton bursting in and telling them what an inspiration they are to him – and now a chance to rescue an old hero from the environs of the Hog Pit Pub, Midland.

John has audibly taken to the task with relish: "You came like an invasion, all bells and whistles blowing," he sings at his new collaborator on Eight Hundred Dollar Shoes. "Your songs have all the hooks, you're seven wonders rolled into one." If it's touching to hear one of the most successful artists of all time momentarily reduced to gasping fanboy, the album works because it feels like a partnership, rather than an indulgence on John's part or an act of gratitude on Russell's. The sound – gospel-infused blues and country – tends more obviously towards the latter's style than the former's, although, in fairness, it's not that far removed from the pre-glam John of 1970's Tumbleweed Connection. Moreover, the stellar guestlist, including Bono and Brian Wilson, clearly has its roots in John's address book, and there are moments when the melodies could no more obviously be his if they turned up in a pair of sunglasses with windscreen wipers on them. As a result, The Union finally succeeds in doing what John has been tentatively pushing towards for the last decade, stripping his music of the glitzy sheen that's built up over 40 years and often threatened to consume it entirely: nothing here sounds like it could be extravagantly staged by David LaChapelle.

In place of the flamboyance and glitter, there are homages to Stax soul (I Should Have Sent Roses) and The Band (Gone to Shiloh); an eeriness that's bound up with Russell's weathered, drawling voice; dark intimations of mortality – There's No Tomorrow borrows its funeral tone and tune from the Mighty Hannibal's dirge-like 1966 single Hymn No 5 – and the encroaching twilight of their careers on The Best Part of the Day. The latter, full of show-must-go-onisms, sounds rather hokey in theory: in practice, there's something moving about hearing two artists who've enjoyed wildly differing fortunes coming to the same conclusion.

It's fair to say that not many people come to an Elton John album looking for death and eeriness: you do wonder what the people who pay to see him sing The Bitch Is Back next to a inflatable banana that looks like a willy will make of it, and what resuscitating effect it might have on Russell's career – not enough to catapult him to the attention of The X Factor crowd and supplant Boney M in Simon Cowell's affections, perhaps, but enough to ensure the Snorty Horse Saloon is but a memory for the foreseeable future. On those terms – and indeed on any others you'd care to mention – The Union is quite a triumph.


Album: Elton John & Leon Russell, Union (Mercury)

(Rated 5/ 5 )

Reviewed by Andy Gill

Back on the cusp of the 1970s, a young Elton John was making his American debut at Los Angeles' legendary Troubadour club, where he was thrilled to meet his idol Leon Russell, the saturnine pianist then on the verge of establishing his own solo career after a decade as a sought-after session man.

Russell had been a crucial component of Phil Spector's The Wrecking Crew, also playing on records by The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan and Joe Cocker, whose career he revolutionised as musical director of the Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour. Along the way, Russell devised his own style, a blend of gospel and swamp-rock, and developed into a songwriter of note, penning standards such as "Superstar", "Delta Lady" and "A Song For You". Stars like the Stones, Beatles and Clapton queued up to play with him. By contrast, Elton John was just feeling his way into the business, but within a few years would dominate it. But while their mutual admiration society continued throughout the decades, the two piano men didn't collaborate until Elton heard his partner playing a Leon song while on holiday, and was so moved by memories that he burst into tears. A phone call later, and The Union was organised.

And hearing how well they work together, one's only regret is that they didn't do it years ago. The album is easily the best thing either of them has produced for years, full of polished songwriting, rolling rock grooves and effortlessly classy musicianship from all involved. Tracks like Jimmie Rodgers' "Dream" and the pounding pow-wow rocker "Hey Ahab" find Elton returning to Tumbleweed Connection territory, while the lachrymose duet "When Love Is Dying" has the melancholy nobility of a future standard, akin to Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me". Other highlights include "A Dream Come True", a galloping shuffle which recalls The Band with Levon Helm in the driving seat; the rolling New Orleans swamp-funk of "If It Wasn't For Bad"; and "Monkey Suit", a raunch-rocker in louche Stones style. Best of all, perhaps, is "Gone To Shiloh", a haunting civil war tale that's like an equivalent of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", with Leon and Elton trading verses with Neil Young over slow sea-swell waves of piano: "After all this, if we should prevail, heaven help the South when Sherman comes their way."

A few years ago, Don Was would have been the natural choice as producer, but he's been irrevocably replaced as helmsman of this kind of heritage-rock project by T-Bone Burnett, who produces another sterling result here, demonstrating how intimately he understands what made both these performers so individually successful in the first place, while locating the place where their distinctive voices – Leon's deep drawl and Elton's stentorian croon – can cohabit comfortably.

DOWNLOAD THIS Gone To Shiloh; Hey Ahab; When Love Is Dying; If It Wasn't For Bad; A Dream Come True

"The Improper Music", Winchester

When I first heard about Elton John and Leon Russell teaming up for an album, I thought, what an overdue idea. I had seen Leon two years back at a Dave Mason concert at the North Fork Theatre in Westbury, Long Island (my first time ever!) and was excited to hear him.

But he also didn’t look well and he hobbled off the stage with the help of a cane. His band was simply terrific and though it was a short set, he was awe inspiring.

John says that when his partner David Furnish was playing some Russell music on his iPod in Africa, of all places, it immediately reminded him of the camaraderie the two had once shared.

Russell first met John in 1970 when he attended John’s first ever U.S. show at Doug Weston’s famed Troubadour club in L.A.

The meeting began a long friendship and a mutual appreciation between the two artists. “In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, the one piano player and vocalist who influenced me more than anybody else was Leon Russell,” John said. “He was my idol.”

The pair went on to tour together shortly after at New York’s famed Fillmore East.

After Elton’s musical epiphany, he called Leon and the result is finally here, proudly and perfectly titled The Union.

At first blush, it’s totally unlike anything else out there. John has temporarily relinquished his longtime Davey Johnstone touring, in favor of atmospheric musicians, like Doyle Bramhall II, guitarist Marc Ribot, keyboardist Keefus Ciancia and even Don Was (aka Don Fagenson) on bass.

The atmosphere is sometimes like being at your favorite bar, familiar and calming.

T Bone Burnett, who for my money is the producer of the moment, produced the entire project and has delivered just a sensational album.

The instruments never override the power of the vocals and lyrics. It’s a stunning testament these two giants.

You’ve known these two voices for eons and together, they’re simply mesmerizing.

Neil Young sings on one track (“Gone To Shiloh”) and Beach Boy Brian Wilson (“When Love Is Dying”) on another. I

It’s subtle for sure, but terrifically enjoying and remembering what powerful artists these two have been … and, still are.

My favorites so far are the first single “If It Wasn’t For Bad,” and “I Should Have Sent Roses” which was written by Russell and Bernie Taupin.

Those two tracks alone are worth the price of admission. “Monkey Suit” and “Hey Ahab” are guilty pleasures too.

This is the album that Elton has been threatening to make for years.

da newsok.com

Elton John/Leon Russell "The Union" (Decca/Rocket)

di Gene Triplett

The pairing of shiny pop showman Elton John and eccentric Okie rocker Leon Russell might seem like an odd-couple deal at first, until one gives "The Union" a spin and discovers a match made in T Bone Burnett heaven.

That's who produced this musical conversation between the "Rocket Man" from Middlesex and Lawton's "Master of Space and Time," but Burnett didn't apply the thick studio polish John is known to favor, opting for a natural sonic environment that lets Russell's organic fusion of country, blues and gospel fill the room, enveloping and influencing John's playing and singing in the process. The John/Bernie Taupin-penned ballad "Eight Hundred Dollar Shoes" with its Sunday morning piano lines and soulful female background vocals harks back to John's early, earthier work on "Elton John" and "Tumbleweed Connection," as does the gospel-tinged "Hey Ahab," another John-Taupin composition.

Meanwhile, Russell's drawling growl and his brassy, upbeat Stax-Volt arrangement on his own "Hearts Have Turned to Stone" will sweep fans back to the glory days of Tulsa's Shelter studios. His hair and beard are whiter, but age has done nothing to diminish the golden gravel in Russell's voice.

And his distinctive vocals blend surprisingly well with John's smoother tenor on the jubilant "Monkey Suit," the melancholy beauty "The Best Part of the Day" and the heartbreakers "I Should Have Sent Roses" and "When Love is Dying." And when guest Neil Young's familiar, mournfully quavering voice joins the vocal mix on the magnificent anti-war dirge "Gone to Shiloh," the listener's day is made.

This is John's heartfelt way of paying back Russell for the early inspiration he provided the Englishman, and it's a handsome payment indeed.

da www.seemagazine.com

Elton John & Leon RusselL

The Union

Lordy, it’s nice to see old farts making music that’s vital and invigorating. Being a follower of Sir Elton since Tumbleweed and Leon from Delaney and Bonnie & Friends, it’s fantastic to see them returning together revisiting origins. This is Elton minus glam rock, too tall shoes, multiple pairs of wild glasses and, worse, weepy maudlin ballads, reverting to what brought him to the forefront. Joined by the force that is Leon Russell as a writer, player and singer, back from relative purgatory, they combine in a “Union” that’s a total treasure of rollicking barrelhouse piano and Hammond, supported by the co-writing talents of Bernie Taupin and T Bone Burnett — Burnett also lends his production talent and his terrific playing abilities. If that isn’t enough, sitting in on The Union are Neil Young, Don Was, Booker T. Jones, Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks amongst others notables.  Finding it being a little on the slower ballady/gospel side, the full rich lushness backing these tracks makes them as gorgeous as the faster cuts.

Five out of five stars.

Robert Hilburn (dal suo sito ufficiale)

This unexpected teaming of these piano men has a lot more going for it than good karma, though the back story is heartwarming. Recalling how much Russell’s music influenced him 40 years ago, John phoned his hero and suggested they make an album together. Considering Russell had been toiling in relative obscurity for decades, it was an especially sweet, thoughtful gesture. Rather than take the easy way out by replaying some of their old hits, John and Russell concentrated on new songs. They also had two great allies—tasteful, imaginative T Bone Burnett to produce the album and longtime songwriting partner Bernie Taupin to write lyrics for most of the 14 tunes. In such standouts as the evocative “Eight Hundred Dollar Shoes” and the potential standard “When Love Is Dying,” John and Taupin reflect the innocence and craft of their 1970s work. But things also work well when John and Russell team up as writers on one tune and Taupin and Russell join forces on another (the gem “I Should Have Sent Roses”). John even lets Russell have the spotlight to himself on the closing “In the Hands of Angels,” and the bearded wonder from Oklahoma comes through marvelously. Russell once stood at the very center of rock ‘n’ roll, whether as ringmaster on the “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” tour or on his own albums. “The Union” puts the spotlight back on him. But the album, too, reminds us that Elton is more than a flashy superstar. He and Taupin are superb pop-rock forces.



The most telling moment in the career of Leon Russell came at 1971’s Concert For Bangladesh where ex-Beatle George Harrison introduces the band. After naming Ringo Starr and Eric Clapton he just says, “you all know Leon” to the biggest cheer of all. Leon Russell was at the pinnacle of rock. As well as band leader for Harrison, at the gig of the decade so far, Russell had made Joe Cocker a superstar with their Mad Dogs and Englishmen Tour and produced Bob Dylan for good measure. In 1971 Leon Russell was omnipresent and omniscient in all things musical. Within a couple of years he had all but disappeared from the scene while a new kid on the block Elton John had taken his mantle as the hottest ticket in rock by pretty much following the Russell piano formula.

Elton John has never hidden the fact that Leon Russell was his biggest influence and it therefore only seems right that he would come up with an idea as to how to resurrect Russell’s career three decades later. A collaboration between the two gets even more mouth watering as T-Bone Burnett gets added to the mix as the producer. Burnett has this ability to know how much to do and not do, what to add and what to leave off. He seems to have an ear called authenticity to make everything sound exactly as it should.

The Union sounds as it should an amalgam of Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connection and Russell’s most successful record Carney. It fuses rock, folk, blues, country and Gospel with duelling pianos and those two familiar voices Elton’s all strong and Leon’s all gnarly gasp, frail but unique as a voice can be. Burnett has the players to supplement the pianos and adds Marc Ribot’s guitar sparingly but with full impact. The highlights are many. There are full on Monkey Suit pumps out terrific energy , the Gospel lament When Love Is Dying is poignantly beautiful and Neil Young’s guest vocal on the haunting cathartic gentleness of the civil war song Gone To Shilo is rather sensational. The train track boogie of Dreams Come True with Gospel singing backing all sounds so Russell and The Best Part of The Day is that John-Taupin ballad from 1970 that suggested superstardom beckoned. The latter starts with a classic couplet, “I hear you singing I Shall be Released/Like a chainsaw running through a masterpiece.” You gotta laugh out loud and ponder for awhile what other song titles rhyme with masterpiece!

Elton’s recent BBC Electric Proms show which featured many songs off the album also saw the white haired shaggy bearded Leon paired with the latest big new voice Rumer on an exquisite version of Masquerade which made you understand why The Carpenters used to cover his crafted songs. The performance also showed that Elton had gained from “the union” too; Sad Songs hasn’t been sung with such power and passion for some time. All in all two careers have been thrown back into the spotlight. Leon needed this more than Elton but Elton needed it too, for sure. Volume 2 “The ReUnion” as soon as possible!


Elton John/Leon Russell
The Union

Mike Greenblatt, November 3, 2010

Elton John deserves a hit. Reportedly, he was irked that his most excellent Captain & The Kid (2006) stiffed after seeing one of his best friends/competitors Rod Stewart sell millions with his tepid and almost unlistenable standards collections. Maybe justice will prevail now as Elton has teamed up with his musical hero Leon Russell on an album produced by T-Bone Burnett, whose magic touch has worked wonders for Robert Plant/Alison Krauss, Tony Bennett/k.d. lang, Los Lobos and Counting Crows.
The gospel-tinged tracks feature a 10-voice choir, Neil Young and Brian Wilson but it’s the two pianos and two voices of Elton and Leon that playfully recall not only John’s 1970 Tumbleweed Connection classic but Russell’s soul/country/rock with Joe Cocker in 1969. Most tracks feature a piano in each speaker complementing each other with plucky resolve and whorehouse urgency. “A Dream Come True,” for instance, could have come right off of Elton’s 1973 Honky Chateau.

Elton sounds better than he has in years, Leon a little less so, his signature drawl still intact, just not so pronounced. Ever the master melodist, Elton imbues these songs with an instant memorability, especially “The Best Part Of The Day” where he honestly gushes, “you’re my best friend/you share my crazy ways.”

This is the sound of two masters driving each other upwards on songs of regret and universal longing. There’s also, in between the lines, an appreciation of time that only age can truly divine.

What took them so long?

In A Word: Finally



Unusual pairing of Leon Russell and Elton John grants interesting experience with sweet contrast of old American musical styles

To some, the pairing of Elton John and Leon Russell seems a bit odd and unconventional. But John, who easily cited Russell as “his idol” throughout his career, decided to unite with the singer-songwriter and versatile musician on The Union. On the surface, Russell’s Santa Claus resemblance is enough to challenge John’s Englishman look, but when you take away all the exteriors and only compare the brilliance of both men’s work, you will notice more similarities in terms of work history than opaque differences. Plus both men are light years away from their hey-day, when John donned glittery super-sized shades and outrageously flamboyant costumes and Russell played with the heaviest of rock and R&B stars like Joe Cocker, B.B. King, George Harrison and Eric Clapton. Russell’s last set of albums, sounding like bitter MIDI-sequenced offerings, never matched the brilliance and majesty of his work from the early to mid-‘70’s. So while some may try to question the conventions of such a odd-pairing union, both men are exercising their blooming wisdom with their respects for each of their styles and work history while carefully leaving all egos at the door.

The labor of love also stands as a show-and-tell for John’s longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin and producer T Bone Burrett, whom leave their fingerprints heavily in the sand. The album also soars with its supporting staff including legendary Hammond B-3 man Booker T. Jones and the background support from Chicago singers Jason Scheff & Lou Pardini, gospel vet Tata Vega and Beach Boy Brian Wilson. Neil Young even makes a short stop on the Civil War-inspired ”Gone To Shiloh.” The Union also feels like it picks up where John’s The Captain & the Kid, an ode to 1975’s Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, left off.. At times, John’s singing could resemble Russell’s, but his English soul won’t allow it. Russell’s Oklahoma twangy drawl, with a Willie Nelson temperament and with a hint of weariness, settles well on some of these performances. With Burrett’s production, Russell comes out sounding as if he’s being primed for a revival album.

Leon Russell pens the opening track, the album’s first single, “If It Wasn’t For Bad.” It’s nothing entirely dissimilar from Bernie Tauplin’s kind of playful prose, but it conjoins bitter break-up lyrics with impudent jabs while using an antithesis of “A Song For You.” (”If it wasn’t for you I’d be happy/If it wasn’t for lies you’d be true/I know that you could be just like you should/If it wasn’t for bad you’d be good”). But all isn’t whimsical and predaceous here. The songs, at best, are reflective pieces; refreshingly warm lyrically and are spirited showcases of two grown men working deep in their muse. “Hey Ahab” marches like an Andrae’ Crouch gospel selection, tweaked with a Cissy Houston-sounding female singer showing off with her Sunday morning vibrato. “There’s No Tomorrow” treads on those same emotions, but bubbles up with a pedal steel guitar solo from Robert Randolph and with a heavier blues gusto. “A Dream Come True” plays like a juke-joint entry where Russell and John takes turns working on the hoedown-seasoned verses. Possibly the brightest of the brighter entries, John visits familiar territory on the midtempo gem “Monkey Suit” where he uses Jerry Lee Lewis piano to create a rock ‘n roll spectacle akin the work of his ‘70’s workouts.

Some of the offerings get comfy in traditional country rhythms, like “Jimmie Rodgers’ Dream,” which places John feels as if he’s performing in a small Nashville bar. But The Union is a wisely executed collection that mends all of their musical influences into one digestible mix.

Towards the back of the album after the mood has reached its creative peak by the tenth track , the album delivers a set of encores (”Hearts Should Have Turned to Stone,” “Never Too Old (To Hold Somebody)”) that gives listeners a little more to fumble with.

Certainly John’s decision to sew together a duet album with Russell brings a cloud of suspicion filled with interior motives. Perhaps it’s to secure Russell his place with the pantheon of rock gods or to get him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame…or to get him into better venues. The Union, with its unique swagger of country blues, hillbilly soul and gospel, will certainly allow those aspirations to take flight.



  • Release Date: 19 October 2010
  • Label: Decca Records
  • Producers: T Bone Burrett
  • Track Favs: I Should Have Sent Roses, Monkey Suit, Hey Ahab, If It Wasn’t For Bad, There’s No Tomorrow

da http://bighollywood.breitbart.com

‘The Union’ Music Review: Elton John and Leon Russell Undone by Auto-Tune, Pacing

by Ezra Dulis

So I know we’re all hating on NPR right now, but for a fledgling music critic who has absolutely no clout getting advance copies of albums, their “First Listen” feature is a godsend. So if we can target just, like, 98% of the org for defunding, let’s leave this part alone.* Being able to stream whole albums before their release really helps me look semi-pro.

For instance, I’m checking the First Listen site for the debut solo album of Animal Collective’s Avey Tare (it’s excellent, by the way), and I see right next to it that Elton John is releasing a collaboration with Leon Russell– whoa! (Click)

“The Union… two classic pop singer-songwriter pianists combining their talents, awesome… Elton John being a super classy guy and trying to elevate Russell’s celebrity, sweet… some top-tier production on those lead-in instruments… Wait, what the heck is Daft Punk doing in here???”

And here I find one of the two fatal flaws of the album: TOO MUCH AUTO-TUNE. I’m not averse to using this effect as a tool for pitch correction or as an instrument unto itself (the sad robot voice used by Bon Iver, Kanye West, and, recently, Sufjan Stevens can be perfectly appropriate), but if you’re using it as the former, at least be a little subtle about it!

Obviously, John and Russell probably don’t have the pipes they once had. Russell’s singing style was always about dancing around the periphery of perfect notes (and the man underwent brain surgery only weeks before recording!). So they’re bound to have some less-than-perfect vocal tracks. When you face that problem, you can either re-record for a better take, leave the track alone and allow that roughness to flavor the performance, or make your singer sound like he’s gargling. Legendary producer/songwriter (and recent Oscar winner) T-Bone Burnett chose Option #3. Why? It’s cheaper and faster than Option #1, and it’s more marketable than Option #2.**

It’s more sad than anything, because that cheapo decision mars some really great contempo-jazz-gospel-rock. Opener “If It Wasn’t For Bad” has Russell robo-crooning (the necessary neologism for that being “chrooning”) over a playfully dark indictment of a false lover. Within the first phrase his voice has already become grating; at the end of the song it turns the natural quiver of his aged voice into totally unnatural-sounding modulation. Things get even worse on some of the slower ballads like “The Best Part of the Day” and the sullen “There’s No Tomorrow.” During the latter, the two singers harmonize, and there’s some phase cancellation on sustained notes since the sound waves for their vocals have been made practically identical. It takes you right out of the song.

I can’t stress enough how I’m not complaining about the writing or arrangements here. The veteran stars don’t take themselves too seriously, and they don’t goof around too much either. The album’s two best songs come consecutively; “Hey Ahab” pounds along with a driving rock piano riff and gruff, aggressive vocals from John, and the Civil War-inspired dirge “Gone to Shiloh” finds powerful resonance through the sorrowful guest vocals of Neil Diamond. And unfortunately, their strength turns out to be the undoing of the album; as tracks 3 and 4 out of 14, the album comes front-loaded with power and fizzles out through the remainder of its hour-long runtime.

The majority of The Union’s other songs are serviceable, catchy, etc., but they lack that same immediacy and profundity. What’s more, everything chugs to a halt with the seventh track, “Monkey Suit,” a peppy big-band tribute to Chuck Berry that goes on at least two minutes too long, and we, the listeners, have to slog through seven more tracks after that. Had Burnett, John, and Russell decided to cut the album down to ten songs, tighten up the editing on a few of them, and saved “Shiloh” for the climax, it could’ve been a great album, even despite the lazy pitch-straightening.

There’s no doubt Elton John is a super-cool guy who’s completely unafraid of PC establishment journalists (though he does carry the ultimate trump card ever if they turn on him). Both he and Leon Russell are extremely talented and creative, and it’s great to see Russell get some belated recognition for his contributions to pop music in the ’60s and ’70s. But as with any creative endeavor, your final product is only as good as its weakest link. For the inevitable ReUnion album, they’ve only got to do two things to smash it out of the park: don’t overproduce it, and hire an editor with acute ADD.

*I kid, I kid. I would wholeheartedly welcome this feature on private companies’ websites which are bound to be designed a billion times better. Since when does “Pause” mean “I really don’t want to pause but want to be taken back to the start of this hour-long album”?

**There is a fourth option: hide the robot voice with distortion and other effects. As my singing is about as good as New York’s rent is too damn low, I tend to over-do it with this choice.