Leon Russell: Live in Japan/Live in Houston

Leon Russell
Live in Japan/Live in Houston
[Rating: 4 stars]

Videos by American Songwriter

Between Leon Russell’s recent well-received Elton John collaboration and his 2011 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the veteran swamp rock pianist from Oklahoma and ex-Phil Spector sideman is experiencing a well earned profile boost late in life. He’s aged considerably since his early 70s heyday of course and is nowhere near as frenetic on stage as he used to be. Therefore, this double dose of Russell live in his prime is a perfectly timed reminder of how devastating he was on stage.

The first nine selections are from the rare Live in Japan, an album that was never released in the States, and were recorded on his 1973 tour. As opposed to the American, and much inferior Leon Live, it’s a stripped down, tight, taut set that kicks off with electric gospel from pianist Rev. Patrick Henderson, featuring call and response vocals from the spirited (and spiritual) Black Grass female vocal trio. Other highlights have Russell covering Jimmy Reed’s “You Don’t Have to Go,” charging through hits such as “Tightrope” and closing with a rousing, uplifting medley of “A Song For You/Of Thee I Sing/Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms” that effectively flaunts most of his influences from country to pop and bluesy gospel in seven energized minutes that will have you dancing and wildly flailing your arms as Russell’s pounding piano and gruff, razor blade vocals propel the band through its paces.

The Houston concert (recorded at the same venue where Johnny Ace accidentally fatally shot himself in 1954) is a 43 minute excerpt from a 1971 gig. It’s a rawer performance that only repeats two songs from the Japan show as Russell powers his band through rollicking versions of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Roll Over Beethoven” and another medley, this one an eleven minute bombshell that includes Eric Clapton’s co-composed “Blues Power” and his own righteous “Shootout on the Plantation.” The audio is a little muddier but Russell is a hot-wired spark plug throughout, acting the part of a fire and brimstone backwoods preacher sermonizing about the healing powers of rock and roll with mesmerizing results.


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