Sunday, November 24, 2013

Leon Russell – Carney

   Leon Russell is one of most original artists at the crossroad of rock and popular music. Combining folk ballade with country and blues traditions, he created in late 1960’s and early 1970’s his own style of writing and performing songs. He was playing the piano since he was four. Born in Lawton, Oklahoma, he started his career in Tulsa as nightclub piano player when he was 14 years old. His band The Starlighters with guitarist J. J. Cale played important role in the beginnings of the Tulsa Sound, the style which founders among others were both Russell and Cale. Later they were developing in different directions. While four years older J. J. Cale was moving toward folk with elements of Cajun and swamp rock, Russell was more rock, blues and rhythm and blues depended styles. The common feature of these two artists is both have created their personal, original styles.
   Since his early years Leon Russell was active as pianist, singer and songwriter. For the great part of his career he was performing under his own name, but he was also permanently active as session and concert musician for hire and in effect, he has collected impressive list of artists he played with. His studio and stage appearances were huge in numbers and in qualities. In 1970 he debuted in Shelter Records with first album under his own name. Next year he recorded Leon Russell And The Shelter People, his first album certified gold. In 1972 Shelter released album Carney which was continuation and recapitulation of his earlier experiences. Third studio album by Leon Russell became the highest rated and the best received of all his productions, reaching 2nd position on Billboard Hot 200, and 4th position in Canadian charts. There was also a hit single with Tightrope and This Masquerade picking 11th position in Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Leon Russell – Carney (1972)

   Whole album is full of excellently written songs. From the very beginning Tight Rope arranged in style of Tulsa years this set is also perfectly varied. In second song Out in the Woods there’s a climax with choir singing in Zulu. In Manhattan Island Serenade sound effects displaying position of someone who stuck in broken van and pronunciation of Cajun Love Song is imitating more native genres of pop music. Second side is opened by two pieces which are not songs in fact. First is the only instrumental organ composition Carney, a kind of short interlude, just to mark the change of style. The second is psychedelic vocal composition without words Acid Annapolis. Composed by Don Preston it gives some rememberings of his years with Mothers of Invention. And again in the style of the sixties and again connected with Tulsa Sound If the Shoe Fits. And then My Cricket – sung with quite a country sound beautiful ballad. This style is not surprising, considering from Tulsa were most active musicians Carl Radle playing bass and drummer Jim Keltner, both were born in 1942, the same as Leon Russell. Only Don Preston playing here guitar and singing was from Detroit and 10 years older, but at this moment he was already versatile professional musician who was able to play almost any kind of music.
   Skillfully graded tension makes this album can be listen repeatedly and without weariness. Lyrical and slightly depressive This Masquerade became the greatest achievement in Russell’s songwriting career. Dozens of cover recordings made this song the standard in popular music and in jazz. Final song Magic Mirror corresponds with first song, it sounds like its expanded version, but it is worth to hear for the words. In early seventies many musicians were making last song of the record as a kind of last word. Leon Russell’s Carney is so eventful there can be no mistake Magic Mirror is not just another song, even if it programmable poses to be. Four stars for this album means it’s as good as it gets – even if “the left ones think I’m right and the right ones think I’m wrong”.

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