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Leon Russell: Signature Songs


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Leon Russell: Signature Songs
Originally released in 2001 and out-of-print since a 2007 re-release, Leon Russell's Signature Songs is now available again on compact disc and vinyl LP in tandem with a new distribution agreement for late Beatle George Harrison's label imprint, Dark Horse Records. A collection of eleven stripped-down takes on The Master of Space And Time's best-known songs, this is a singular entry in the list of over half-dozen similar 'best of' anthologies released since 1976.

As nasal as ever but markedly lighter in tone, Russell's voice is as quirky in its own way as his method(s) on the ivories. For instance, hear how young and effervescent he sounds on "One More Love Song:" it's as if playing and singing these vintage tunes revives his youth. And during "Tight Rope," he inserts a quick drawl in his vocal delivery that's as unexpected in its own way as the drawn and clipped notes on the keys with which he concludes that cut.

Such subtlety is emblematic of the vocal and instrumental work in general on Signature Songs. With the marked exception of "Delta Lady"—where a drum machine is wholly intrusive—these are largely piano and vocal readings of the tunes: as on "A Song For You," Russell makes no discernible attempt to deliberately avoid copying his earlier recordings or consciously replicating them either.

While the author does a bit of preaching on "Stranger In A Strange Land," there are otherwise no greatly extended intros or outros here. He clearly relishes playing and singing "Hummingbird" though: during the bridge of the number, he weaves just enough embroidery upon the melody and rhythm to whet the appetite for a longer take. On "Out In The Woods," Russell channels New Orleans in general—and the late Dr. John in particular—right down to the Louisiana patois (where he's accompanied by one of the two instances of background harmonies on the album). "Lady Blue" is a quintessential torch song upon the likes of which its composer could have subsided upon for his entire career, while this insistent rendition of "Magic Mirror" bespeaks the intelligence that would not allow any such complacency.

Adorned with newly-created artwork in collaboration with Leon Russell's estate, Signature Songs is not a lavish package in either CD or vinyl format (though the black and white color scheme of the four-page insert might've been improved). But then, given Leon Russell's skeletal approach for the project, including the appropriate closing of "This Masquerade," it shouldn't be.

The effortless fluency of that performance, in combination with those that precede it, reveals more than a little about Leon Russell's idiosyncratic, soulful gifts. The cumulative effect of the forty-some minutes playing time, in fact, clarifies how this material of the Oklahoma native's inspired the ever-so-imaginative arrangements and production issued decades prior to this release.

Track Listing

Tracklist: A Song for You; One More Love Song; Tight Rope; Stranger in a Strange Land; Hummingbird; Back to the Island; Out in the Woods; Lady Blue; Delta Lady; Magic Mirror; This Masquerade.


Additional Instrumentation

Leon Russell: vocals.

Album information

Title: Signature Songs | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Dark Horse Records

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