Elton John & Leon Russell – The Union

January 01, 1970



Time is a weird thing if you get some. It allows you to
reflect on past glories, missed opportunities. If you’re lucky you get a chance
to connect what was once was with what should have been. So yes, the Elton John
of Southern belle/C&W gospel howling/dusty cowboy funk fame (think Tumbleweed Connection) pays tribute to
the innovator of that sound, pianist/composer/arranger/singer and all around
Mad Dog, Leon Russell for connecting those dots so very long ago. Through
Russell’s mélange of simmering stew solo albums and his work with Joe Cocker
and Delaney and Bonnie, John became ELTON and the righteous payback comes with
the joining forces and the money spent on a good band, a great producer (T Bone
Burnett), a world weary lyricist (Bernie Taupin) a top notch choral arranger (Brian
Wilson!) and more exposure than Russell’s had in a dog’s age. “Your songs
have all the hooks/You’re seven wonders rolled into one,” John sings in a
deep but fan-like squeal on “Eight Hundred Dollar Shoes.”


But if you think this is a charity album for Russell (though
he hasn’t been on a major for a spell, he tours and records steadily) or mere
worship on John’s part, think differently. The
is about the pair re-living their ‘70s hit-making haughty
honky-catting (“Monkey Suit,” the strutting “If It Wasn’t for Bad”) while
finding the new common ground of reflection upon those moments (the
conversational “The Best Part of the Day” and “A Dream Come
True”) that while ruminative and past-perfect feels nicely refreshed. Indeed,
John puts more lust/luster into his singing and playing here than he has in a
century – take note of the vocal licks he trades with Russell and the Beach
Boys’ choral arrangement on “When Love is Dying.” If John would’ve kept up with
this level of passion since 1980, we’d still be listening. The Stax-ed up
“I Should Have Sent Roses” is pure Russell, all grit and sinew, a
cotton mouth filled with good bourbon and the smoke of a thick pricy cigar. And
when the pair hit “There’s No Tomorrow” (a cover-of-sorts based of a
Mighty Hannibal hymn) it’s Russell who brings the spooky spirits to the game,
conjuring his and John’s oldest inspirations for something you can only pray
lasts beyond tomorrow.


Ahab” “I Should Have Sent Roses” “When Love Is Dying” A.D.


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