The Upshot: Regrettable overproduced/kitschy finale for the wildly creative musician and producer—but who will always remain an icon of American music.
BY JOHN B. MOORE
Over the course of six decades, Leon Russell created a wildly creative and deeply influential catalogue of music. As a session musician, producer and touring organist, he helped inject a swampy funk to artists as varied as The Stones, The Byrds, Dylan, Joe Cocker, Willie Nelson and countless others. When he finally started releasing his own music, in the late ‘60s, he created his own genre – a mix of rock, pop, country, soul and funk – that many have spent the past 50 years trying in vain to recreate.
It’s a little regrettable then that his last officially studio album, coming out less than a year after he died, is so overproduced and kitschy. The record, On A Distant Shore, is layered in schlocky orchestral arrangements that essentially drown out the essence of Russell’s music. If you listen to his best stuff, it’s grounded in a gritty, soulful swampiness, with Russell’s gravely vocals competing over a dirty mix of guitars, organ, loud drums and the occasional funked up horn section. On this latest effort, his voice is still just as strong here, but that’s the only constant. With coat after coat of schmaltzy synthetic string arrangements layered over the songs, you can’t help but think of cocktail parties, not honky tonks.
There are a couple of redeeming moments here, especially on Russell’s update of his classic “A Song For You,” but it’s simply not enough to save this otherwise uninspired album. Mine advice, pick up 2014’s Life Journey and consider that one his swan song.
DOWNLOAD: “Here Without You,” and “A Song For You”