Russell’s third album featured a wealth of high-profile special guests.
David Quantick 2010
If nothing else, rock history will remember Leon Russell as the super session man.
He was everyone’s friend in the early 1970s, playing with The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, a distinctive figure whose Stetson and long, flowing white beard and hair made him look like Santa’s roadie. But he also had – and still has – a remarkable career as a singer, performer and songwriter (a new album, recorded in collaboration with Elton John, is due later this year).
Musically he occupied the swampy middle ground between two very New Orleans-influenced artists, Dr John and Randy Newman, but Russell added to that slightly surreal gumbo a soulfulness and commercial songwriting ability all of his own. This eponymous collection was his third album and contained hits like Delta Lady – which has George Harrison’s distinctive slide all over its boogie – and Roll Away the Stone (not the Mott The Hoople song of the same name, although they do seem to share some piano similarities). There are also strong nods to Russell’s southern heritage in a cover of the classic I Put a Spell On You and the none-more-70s title Pisces Apple Lady.
A funkier set than some of Russell’s work, this album sounds to contemporary ears a bit over-arranged. This may be due to the fact that it is somewhat heavily laden with players. But you can see why Russell found it hard to scale down his special guest list, since it features two ex-Beatles, four Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood and Joe Cocker. A little more room to breathe might’ve been nice – and a few tunes with the lightness of touch Russell brought to Superstar, the song he wrote which, of all people, The Carpenters later covered.