Thursday, June 28, 2018

Leon Russell - Live in Japan

Once again, considering that I have been a fan of Leon's since the early 70's and listen to him regularly to this day, I am astonished that I have not written about any of his other records. This has been on my wish list since I discovered that it existed - the CD highlights two live shows, one in Japan in '73 and bonus track in Houston in '71 - and it appeared at our local library so, of course, I picked it up.

Leon's work is legendary and rightfully so - from his time in the Wrecking Crew through his work with the likes of Joe Cocker and Delanney and Bonnie and to his own, highly successful, solo career. By 1973, he had already had a big hit with "Tightrope", but he has much more in his repertoire - fantastic, swampy, bluesy, gospel-y rock'n'roll that rocks with the best of them.

Here, his big gospel road show opens with the band testifin' in "Heaven", and you can hear as Leon makes his appearance and joins in on lead guitar (I believe that's him, anyway). I'm making assumptions, since this is just audio, but I think he moves over to piano for his talented singers' rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"/"God Put a Rainbow" - more terrific gospel (Leon is a good Southern boy, after all) and he raves it up with his voice'n'pumpin' piano towards the end. It's back to his own brand of bluesy, upbeat rock'n'roll for the fantastic "Queen of the Roller Derby" and the equally amazing "Roll Away the Stone". The afore-mentioned hit, "Tightrope" is given a reasonably straight reading but, oddly, it fades out. He comes back with his ballad, "Sweet Emily" which moves into the more rockin' "Alcatraz" (highlighting his guitarist on some sizzlin' licks), segueing into Jimmy Reed's "You Don't Have to Go" before concluding the Japanese portion with a medley of "A Song For You" (way too short)/"Of Thee I Sing" (a jumpin' original)/ and a rollickin'"Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms", with a big, gospel/blues shout-out ending.

Moving back in time a couple of years, "Alcatraz" is reprised at the Houston show, with an edgier, more guitar dominated arrangement. I always loved his "Stranger in a Strange Land" - maybe sorta mid-tempo Dylan-esque, with a heart-rending melody and excellent backing vocals that builds into some fine preachin'n'proselytizin'. His beautifully wrenching ballad, "Superstar" is enacted by one of his singers (don't know the line-up on this release, unfortunately - ah, he later introduces the wonderfully talented and gorgeous Claudia Lenear) before Leon returns front'n'center for a a frantic, piano-poundin' take on "Roll Over Beethoven". Leon always liked his medleys and here we get "Blues Power" (which he co-wrote with Eric Clapton) moving into "Shootout at the Plantation" which seamlessly becomes "As the Tears Go By" and then slows down for the burnin' blues, "The Woman I Love". His rendition of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" from Concert for Bangladesh is legendary'n'incendiary and its appearance here is spectacularly rockin' even without the medley with "Youngblood". They bring down the curtain with more gospel flavoring in "Of Thee I Sing" combined with"Yes I Am".

I kinda lost track of Russell after the 70's, but this mix of rock'n'roll, gospel'n'blues really can't be beat! Fantastic stuff! (BTW, this is all different from the also terrific Leon Live double album that was recorded sometime between these two shows, I think, and is a must have, as well.)