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The Union by Elton John & Leon Russell []



The Union exists as one of the finest statements of friendship that the recording industry has seen. The origins of this album began when Elton John was listening to a vintage Leon Russell recording and burst into tears. The two hadn’t spoken since they toured together in the early 1970’s when John first came to America. Russell, being an early hero of his, had also become a nearly forgotten footnote in the history of popular music.

Leon Russell, a member of Phil Spector’s infamous Wrecking Crew, the pianist and arranger for the Concert for Bangladesh and critically lauded solo artist of the 1970’s, had been releasing music with little distribution or fanfare from his website for the last couple of decades. Elton saw it as his mission to reintroduce audiences to Leon’s brilliant catalog and release him from obscurity. He approached his childhood idol to work on some material together and also selected T-Bone Burnett to handle the production.

The result is a stunning collaboration drawing influence from New Orleans jazz and blues, gospel, soul, country and the Jerry Lee Lewis brand of rock n’ roll. The two piano men trade licks like they are dueling at a honky-tonk and modestly share vocal duties as much as two legends can. Though Elton certainly hasn’t sounded this good since his classic years, it’s Leon who steals the show. Russell’s “In the Hands of Angels”, a song about dying sung in his withered drawl, is by far the standout track.
I believe the saying is “you can take the man from the Lion King, but you can’t take the Lion King from the man”. Yes, there are those moments where Elton is delivering the soaring power ballad chorus, but these occasions are few. The Union feels at home alongside Elton’s Tumbleweed Connection and Leon’s spectacular self-titled record. It’s the 70’s… just forty years later.

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