Tuesday, 3 January 2017

"Leon Russell" by LEON RUSSELL (1995 The Right Stuff CD Reissue - Steve Hoffman Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...He Sang A Dixie Lullaby..." 

Oklahoma's Claude Russell Bridges (Leon Russell to you and I) had already built up enough insider clout as a jobbing musician (stints with Phil Spector, The Byrds, Delaney and Bramlett, Ron Davies and Joe Cocker's first two LPs on Regal Zonophone) to form Shelter Records in 1970 with Producer Phil Cordell and use that platform to launch his own self-titled debut LP.

This beautifully-transferred 1995 CD Remaster from America's 'The Right Stuff' label is a cheap but audiophile-sounding Reissue of that mighty beginning. And with Leon Russell's sad loss in November 2016 aged 74 – I think it's high time we revisited this blindingly good debut and tip our collective fedoras to the original Big Top Hat songwriter beloved of so many in and out of the music business. Here are the Delta Ladies...

US released 4 July 1995 - "Leon Russell" by LEON RUSSELL on The Right Stuff T2-34028 (Barcode 724383402823) is a straightforward CD Reissue and Remaster of the original 12-track version of his 1970 debut LP and plays out as follows (38:55 minutes):

1. A Song For You
2. Dixie Lullaby
3. I Put A Spell On You
4. Shoot Out On The Plantation
5. Hummingbird
6. Delta Lady [Side 2]
7. Prince Of Peace
8. Give Peace A Chance
9. Pisces Apple Lady
11. Roll Away The Stone

12. Masters Of War (Old Masters)
All songs are Leon Russell originals except "Old Masters" which is "Masters Of War" by Bob Dylan. "Dixie Lullaby" is a co-write with Christ Stainton of The Grease Band and Boxer, "Prince Of Peace" and "Roll Away The Stone" are co-writes with Greg Dempsey and "Give Peace A Chance" is a co-write with Bonnie Bramlett.

First thing you notice is that the rear sleeve credits "Masters Of War (Old Masters)" as a 'Bonus Track' - which is both right and wrong and needs some explanation. Recorded across five sessions stretching between September 1969 and January 1970 - original pressings of the "Leon Russell" LP hit US shops 23 March 1970 on Shelter SHE 1001. American First-Issue 'Monarch Pressings' and British A&M issues (June 1970 in the UK on A&M Records AMLS 935) had 12-tracks - 5 on Side 1 and 7 on Side 2. But later reissues on Shelter SHE 8901 (probably pressed around Autumn 1970) had only 11 tracks - withdrawing the 1:20 minutes of Bob Dylan's "Old Masters" originally slotted in-between "Prince Of Peace" and "Give Peace A Chance" as Track 3 on Side 2. The album stayed as an 11-track version thereafter. It's said that because Russell did the short Dylan cover in the style of the American Star-Spangled Banner - it caused offence in certain quarters and was given the axe. Hence TRS can technically call it a Bonus Track.

The 8-leaf foldout inlay with liner notes from TODD EVERETT gives us a good overview of his career and the formation of the album (the LPs artwork isn't here as its single sleeve wasn't much to look at in the first place) - but it's the sound that's the star here. Originally produced by PHIL CORDELL and GLYN JOHNS – this STEVE HOFFMAN Remaster uses the original Shelter Master Mixes and has done this largely forgotten beginning a proper solid. The sound is gorgeous…warm and clear and none too pushed…lovely…

Even though there are no official musician credits on the LP (Russell dedicated the music on the rear sleeve to members of The Beatles, The Stones and many others) time has unfolded a huge uncredited array of stellar performers including Eric Clapton, George Harrison and Delaney Bramlett on Guitars – Steve Winwood and Chris Stainton on Keyboards – Jim Horn on Saxophone – Klaus Voorman, Alan Spenner and Bill Wyman on Bass – Buddy Harman, Ringo Starr, Charlie Watts, BJ Wilson and Jim Gordon on Drums with Joe Cocker, Mick Jagger, Bonnie Bramlett and Merry Clayton on Vocals. Although no one seems to know who plays on what track – it’s a line-up most debut artists would gladly lose a limb for.

The LP first hit the US charts 11 April 1970 eventually rising to No. 60 with a stay of 18 weeks. His connections with Joe Cocker's Grease Band and the live extravaganza of "Mad Dogs And Englishmen" had served Russell well. Cocker took the then unrecorded Leon Russell "Delta Lady" composition and made a UK No. 10 hit out of it in September 1969 (Regal Zonophone RZ 3024) - even making something of a splash Stateside on the singles chart at a lesser No. 69. Leon does his own version here - and cool it is too – funking it up even more. The other two winners on the album picked up by other bands and singers in their droves are "A Song For You" and "Hummingbird". It’s said that as many as 100 artists have covered "A Song For You" in every genre - Donny Hathaway, Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin in Soul with The Carpenters, Willie Nelson and Simply Red to name but a few in Easy Listening, Country and Rock. Blues giant B.B. King had a Rock-Blues hit with "Hummingbird" taken from his superb 1970 LP "Indiana Mississippi Seeds” on which Russell plays with Carole King and Joe Walsh (see separate review) and the covers of the song go right up to Bonnie Prince Billy in 2012.

A co-write with Christ Stainton of The Grease Band - "Dixie Lullaby" opens with a Dylan-like Harmonica intro before the band gets all Little Feat Dixie Chicken funky on this tune about penniless Willie down on Beale Street smiling as he sings his tunes. There's messing around at the beginning of the reluctant bachelor song "I Put A Spell On You" with studio stops and starts - but when the song does kick in - you can feel that good-ole-boy Lynyrd Skynyrd vibe as the band takes off - Derek & The Dominoes type lead guitar backed up by righteous tambourine slapping ladies and a furious piano speed from Russell  ("...come quickly mama...") Apparently based on a true story of two men (Junior and the Drummer) fighting over a woman - "Shoot Out On The Plantation" is a "Watching The River Flow" rocker. His much-covered "Hummingbird" starts out as Funky Acoustic ditty but quickly settles into a lovely melody - his lady soothing - gets him where he lives - the audio on this baby is fabulous.

Over on Side 2 "Prince Of Peace" (not the Lennon song) is given a 'huge' Production - the boogieing guitars leaping out of your speakers accompanied by those complimentary backing singers - a sound that's akin to the Derek & The Dominoes "Layla" double (also from 1970). The 1:21 minutes of "Old Masters" is Bob Dylan's "Masters Of War" done on a lone piano to the melody of the Star Spangled Banner is a genuine unnerving oddity as he sings "...I can see through your mask..." You can so hear the fab rasp of Bonnie Bramlett on "Give Peace A Chance" which feels like a Hair rave up as loads of voices get all holy-roller, piano-banging, hand-clapping righteous about 'peace'. The gorgeous audio transfer continues on a crystal clear "Hurtsome Body" - a massive guitar rocker with a sound akin to Bobby Whitlock's debut LP. "Pisces Apple Lady" would be covered by England's Tucky Buzzard on their self-titled second LP "Tucky Buzzard" in June 1971 on Capitol Records - a jerk-funky little bopper about English gals that would equally have been at home on Little Feat's "Sailin' Shoes". It ends on the rollicking piano-boogie of "Roll Away The Stone" which bears a striking resemblance to the Mott The Hoople hit of same-name three years later in 1973 (naughty Ian).

Russell would follow his Shelter Records American debut LP with "Leon Russell And The Shelter People" in May 1971, "Carney" in July 1972 and the triple "Leon Live" in July 1973 - all of which charted well (Right Stuff have also reissued "Shelter People" and "Carney" with Steve Hoffman Remasters). But there's just something a bit special about this celebratory and raucous beginning. 

"...That Louisiana man's gonna get you yet with his Dixie lullaby..." – Leon Russell sang on the jaunty "Dixie Lullaby". Let him in and get to you...

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