Welcome to the musical meandering insights of Aaron Joy. Here you'll find 600 reviews of CDs & DVDs of rock & metal in all its variations, mainstream & indie. What they all share is that the album or band is unique in some way & not every submission was reviewed. Please share these reviews or link to them if you like what you read. Reviews are no longer being posted here but feel free to e-mail Aaron & post comments. (Formerly the Roman Midnight Music Blog) (last update 5/23/2017)

November 16, 2012

Elton John & Leon Russell ~ The Union

(Click on heading to visit official website of Leon Russell)
Style: country rock, blues-rock, folk rock
Label: Mercury
Year: 2010
Home: n/a

Members: Elton John, Leon Russell ~ piano/vocals

Additional: Jim Keltner, Jay Bellerose ~ drums
Debra Dobkin ~ beaded gourd
Dennis Crouch ~ upright bass
Davey Faragher, Drew Lambert ~ bass
Russ Pahl ~ pedal steel
Keefus Ciancia, Martin Grebb ~ keyboards
Jason Wormer ~ dulcimer

Guests: Don Was ~ bass
Marc Ribot, T-Bone Burnett: electric guitar
Robert Randolph ~ pedal steel
Booker T. Jones ~ organ

When it comes to LR I only know his few classic 70's albums, which I think is what most of us really only know, & his session work behind folks like George Harrison.
As for Sir EJ I come & go on what I like by him. I like some full albums, when he's not too commercially slick, lots of songs of course, even his non-Bernie Taupin trio of albums, though I avoid his Broadway work, but have nothing but accolades for his last few studio albums starting with Songs From The West Coast which I call some of the best of his career & a true revival. As for when I saw he was pairing up with LR, on one hand I felt EJ was in a good period of music to thus bring the best of himself to the table ... on the other hand I've found his mumbling live shows less than exciting & when he's too slick looking for a radio hit I can barely make it through his albums. While where are these new songs going to stand in terms of Bernie Taupin's contribution? Many forget EJ writes no lyrics & this isn't going to be EJ just doing LR's songs. Many give all the credit to EJ for making the magic over the years, but he's really just the arrange, & for every great song by Taupin there's as many unmemorable ones, for whatever reason maybe related to EJ's music or maybe not. If there's a hit or miss artist EJ is on the list. Albeit, having said all this, I first heard the album at work when my boss got a promo copy. There were three of us there & almost as a joke decided to put it on, ready to laugh. But, we were completely silent in shock. Wow! What a sound that wraps you in immediately. Listening to it again over a year later I still agree with that initial hearing & I'd have to say that EJ & LR might have made one of the best albums of their respective careers, certainly when compared to their post-70's output. There's still a soul in that big belly of EJ not lost behind a desire to create commercial hits, which seems to often be his goal. The key here is that with LR this is not the usual pairing EJ has done in the past. EJ doesn't work with musicians, he works with composers or guests for a song or two. & he certainly doesn't work with musicians who have such a gutsy, soulful & distinctive sound as LR. LR allows EJ to break his mold, while EJ in turn gives to LR some long-overdue strong material that is both within his comfort zone but also has some new variables. The key really might be that in the songs composed by Taupin there is no set sound. Tuapin may have a lyrical style but not necessarily a musical style ... one only need to remember the other musicians he's written for, such as Alice Cooper, to consider this factor. He's putty in others hands, so he lends himself both to the styles of EJ & LR & what they might be inspired to create together. LR sings on "If It Wasn't For Bad", his composition, which includes typical LR mesmerizing non-traditional instrumentation. You can tell his stamp as its far less commercial & smooth. Though, if there's any low parts its where EJ's stamp comes through. Its not that the songs are bad, but because we get spoiled for wanting more than his normal on this release. We don't want the EJ we know. The shocking hightlights are those that sound like neither or you think it's LR song when it's actually Taupin. Taupin's "Jimmie Rodgers Dream", sung by EJ, is like this as its a straight country that sounds like LR if not neither. The EJ/Taupin "Hey Ahab" rocks out like LR, so its shocking to find out its not. While the opposite is true for "Gone To Shiloh" sung by LR as only he can do it, but suprise it's a Taupin composition. Right when you think you have their respective sounds down they fool you a bit. When was the last time EJ fooled us? When was the last time we bought an album by LR to know if he was fooling us, or I should say what was the last non-70's LR album we bought to know anything? Perhaps this is LR's influence on EJ to try new music, or maybe recording it in Nashville was an influence or maybe it's EJ's musical ideas which he might have wanted to do for a long time but with LR he now has permission to experiment with different styles. LR might be the most ear-catching while EJ stays in the same plaintive mood he's honed so well over the years, but at the same time he's tucked into his roots more than he has in decades, some say since Captain Fantastic. Let alone, it just sounds like these two guys are having more fun then they have in years & it spreads to the listener. I can't find anything wrong with this album, except I'd love to hear more compositions by LR & hear his voice more, for this remains squarely an EJ album with a guest, albeit a heavy handed one. It does go on a bit longer than I might prefer, but these are minor complaints for what is a must-hear release. For those that don't like EJ, I doubt there's anyone who will say that about LR, this will change your mind. Predictable has become a key phrase for EJ, but not here. But, there's one more thing that deserves mention, a looming question. How can EJ ever follow this union of unpredictability?

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