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Leon Russell’s Road Less Traveled Ends in New Album ‘Life Journey’

Leon Russell reflects on his career and the music that moved him on his new album 'Life Journey.'

Leon Russell reflects on his career and the music that moved him on his new album ‘Life Journey.’

Leon Russell made me a life-long fan when I heard Joe Cocker sing his song “Delta Lady” in 1969. I always wondered where Leon would end up, and now the question has been answered with his latest album, Life Journey.Leon Russell's Road Less Traveled Ends in New Album 'Life Journey' 1

I put it on and was immediately struck by it’s somewhat somber nature.

There are only two Russell originals, “Big Lips” and “Down In Dixieland.”

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Among the other tracks are Billy Joel’s “New York State Of Mind,” Paul Anka’s “I Really Miss You” and Duke Ellington’s “I Got it Bad And That Ain’t Good.”

All are terrifically performed, but not what I expected. I think what I really wanted was another song the caliber of “Masquerade.”

The liner notes written by Leon himself explain a lot.

“This is a record of my musical journey through this life,” he writes. “Nearing the close of my musical adventure, I feel that I may be the luckiest guy in the world.”

Leon is saying goodbye in the medium he always excelled at… music.

Leon Russell's Road Less Traveled Ends in New Album 'Life Journey' 1

The production, by ace Tommy LiPuma (Paul McCartney; Diana Krall) is superlative. The more I listened to it, the more I got it; these are the songs that moved him and now he wants to move us. Just brilliant.

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Leon, who turned 72 this month (Apr. 2) created many of his best solo albums for Denny Cordell’s Shelter Records.

He wrote great songs like “This Masquerade” and “A Song For You” in the ’70s, and toured with Cocker and the aptly named Mad Dogs and Englishmen for quite some time.

Even before the Cocker connection, Russell, in short hair and suits no less, delivered his keyboard magic to countless Phil Spector records. He also recorded for many infamous Wrecking Crew productions.

The crew included such legendary sessions players as Hal Blaine, Larry Knechtel, Steve Douglas, Carol Kaye, Roy Caton, Tommy Tedesco and Glen Campbell.

Most all of these tracks were recorded at the now shuttered, Gold Star Studios on Vine street in Hollywood.

Russell went on to appear–and some say steal the show–at George Harrison’s legendary Bangladesh concert in 1971.

His performance of “Younglood” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” was a show highlight; I know, I was there. He later provided backup for Ringo Starr, Harrison and Bob Dylan.

He also played piano, at Harrison’s urging, on Badfinger’s brilliant Straight UpLeon Russell's Road Less Traveled Ends in New Album 'Life Journey' 3 album, also released in 1971.

His star went into eclipse during the ’80s and ’90s, mainly because of health problems. He toured, but sometimes way under the radar.

I remember seeing a show on Long Island; he opened for former Traffic guitar god Dave Mason. He played on Mason’s still-brilliant album Alone TogetherLeon Russell's Road Less Traveled Ends in New Album 'Life Journey' 4 in 1970.

He walked with the aid of a cane and had to be helped on stage by a member of his crew. Yet once he sat down at the piano, he was miraculous.

In 2010, he wrote with Elton John, The Union, produced by T Bone Burnett. It is astonishing brilliant.

The collaboration brought Elton a renewed sense of creativity and fully brought Leon back.

A year-long series of concerts, and an HBO-special directed by Cameron Crowe, followed. Both men shared the stage and proved, if nothing else, what a vibrant performer and writer Russell was and still remains.

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