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Elton John/Leon Russell: The Union


Elton John & Leon Russell

Album: The Union
Label: Decca

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Elton John has said that The Union, his collaboration with rock/pop/R&B legend Leon Russell, is an effort to bring Russell the attention John feels he deserves—including entry to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. To that end, The Union features an all-star cast: producer T-Bone Burnett, lyricist Bernie Taupin, and a list of guest performers that includes Neil Young, Booker T., and Brian Wilson, all supporting John and Russell as they go piano-a-piano, rolling through a set of rootsy soft-rock pitched halfway between Russell’s classic early-’70s albums and John’s Tumbleweed Connection. It’s admirable that John and Russell didn’t take the safe route and just record an album of covers, but the songwriting on The Union is rarely up to either man’s peak. The record has its highlights: The album-opener “If It Wasn’t For Bad” is a swampy lament that uses the dual-piano approach well, allowing the two men add a flourish to every line; “Gone To Shiloh” is a moving Civil War ballad on which Young sings one aching verse; and “Jimmie Rodgers’ Dream” practically justifies the whole project, with steel guitar putting a spring in John and Russell’s poignant evocations of life on the road. But too much of The Union is blandly bluesy, using gospel choirs and bar-band guitar to add an artificial jolt to too-tame songs. As an attempt at enshrinement, The Union over-applies the lacquer.