The collaboration of Elton John and Leon Russell may come to a shock and surprise to some people. Two polar opposites in the piano rock genre. However, the world is a funny place and opposites seem to attract.
When Elton John, born Reginald Kenneth Dwight, started touring the United States in 1970, he actually shared the marquee lights with Leon Russell. And at the time, the future Rocket Man thought the world of Leon. In 1970, Elton John played second to the elder Leon Russell. And Mr. John was in awe of his musical idol.
30 years and dozens of hits later, Elton John made a surprise return to his roots. Long gone are the days of high tops and flamingo suits. The 5 foot wigs and Tina Turner drag costumes have been put away in the closet. In by returning to his roots, he made a decision that would change the world of his former idol’s life.
While on vacation in Africa, Elton heard Leon Russell on his ipod and was moved to tears. Stating in later interviews, the music of his idol brought him back to a place in time of youthful innocence. And Elton remembered his idol fondly and how Leon was such an inspiration to young Elton John. Elton, feeling like he didn’t thank his musical idol enough, phoned Mr. Russell out of the blue after almost 40 years. After a brief conversation, Elton asked Leon if he might be interested in recording a new album together. And with Leon’s enthusiastic agreement, a legendary album was about to be made.
The apply titled album, The Union, released on October 19th, is the essence of everything that is right with the music industry. In a day and age when music is churned out by computers and rarely by instruments, the two grizzled rock and roll veterans prove to a generation that music is not totally dead. With producer T-Bone Burnett at the helm, John and Russell take the listener on a trip down memory lane. In fact, this album may have very well done just as much for Sir Elton John as it has for Leon Russell. Although Leon has been forgotten by mainstream America, Elton has been ridiculed by mainstream America for his rotten mouth (calling press reporters vile pigs), outlandish accusations (claiming Madonna lip-syncs) and controversial actions (performing with Eminem at the Grammys). Elton has become an afterthought when it comes to American music. This album brings both guys into the music spotlight they belong in.
The Union starts off with the jaunting “If It Wasn’t For Bad.” A soulful upbeat melody penned by Leon Russell. Leon, with his memorable Dylan-esque voice, shines through on songs like the aforementioned “If It Wasn’t For Bad.” And though a little older, his voice resonates and packs much more impact than cookie cutter acts of today. Raw emotion places a huge part in the duet “Never Too Old.” The two men, different in every way imaginable, sing collectively about the loss of love and that despite their age, they’re never too old to hold somebody. The highlights of the album include Leon’s “I Should Have Sent Roses.” The lyric, written by longtime Elton John lyricist Bernie Taupin, is perhaps one of the most underrated love songs to come along in several years. Poetic and written in such eloquence, the epic 5 minute ballad paints a picture that moves along the listeners mind like a movie in a Drive-In. Picture perfect lyrics that literally tell a story. Furthermore, Elton hasn’t been on top of his game like this in over 25 years. His contributions include “800 Dollar Shoes,” “Gone To Shiloh,” and the instant classic “Best Part Of The Day,” which, if it weren’t for his now worn voice, sounds like it could have come from 1974’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album. Additionally, the powerful ballad “When Love Is Dying,” with backing vocals from Beach Boy Brian Wilson hearkens back to Elton classic “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me.”
The two piano men, from two different sides of the world, definitely come together in this most perfect union.