The Union (2010)

1. If It Wasn't For Bad
2. Eight Hundred Dollar Shoes
3. Hey Ahab
4. Gone to Shiloh
5. Jimmie Rodger's Dream
6. There's No Tomorrow
7. Monkey Suit
8. The Best Part of the Day
9. A DreamCome True
10.When Love is Dying
11.I Should Have Sent Roses
12.Hearts Have Turned to Stone
13.Never Too Old (To Hold Somebody)
14.In the Hands of Angels

 

As Elton John got older, he spent less of his time and energy on recording and releasing standard albums, and, instead, fleshed his talents out to do multiple projects that were interesting to him, and him alone. These usually would end up categorized in the soundtrack/musical/film score categorization, and reviews from critics and fans were generally mixed. For this project, he decided to go in a somewhat new direction, and record an album of duets with one of his idols, Leon Russell.

Depending on your age (probably anyone under 45), you might be tempted to ask, Who?, so perhaps a bit of background is necessary. Leon Russell was mainly known in the late 60's as more of a session musician, although he did put out a fair amount of solo work, and albums with his group, The Shelter People. His career basically fizzled out in the mid 70's, and sadly, he was not an artist that many in the public eye could recall very well. He kept on plowing ahead, releasing albums that really only a few dedicated fans would ever snatch up. This was simply a matter of public taste, though. Even though Russell didn't have a plethora of fans, most in the music business regarded his contributions as nothing less than brilliant. Since he was at his peak when Elton was just arriving on the scene around 1970, it makes perfect sense that Elton was always a huge fan.

So this project, if anything, was a tribute by Elton to one of is idols as well as maybe an attempt to bring Russell out a bit into the limelight. Overall the album is quite fascinating. It really is a special thing to hear Elton sing side by side with the twangy sounding Country-ish artist from Tulsa, Oklahoma. At first, you would think similarities would be few and far between, but you quickly see that this is really not the case.

On every song, you can hear the two piano's side by side, and I can't tell which one is playing which since the styles are so similar. The songs themselves, however, do come across as a bit different, and not surprising, I favor the John-Taupin songs significantly even though the Leon Russell (some which were co-written with Bernie Taupin as well) songs are very strong as well. They mix things up quite well also. Neither one of these artists really "dominate" the album, although some songs do prominently feature one singer or the other. Ironically, one of the strongest pieces here, Gone to Shiloh, the haunting Civil War ballad, actually features a third artist in the person of Neil Young. You almost wish he was on all of the songs as well. Almost. The main criticism of this record is that it does get a bit bogged down in the middle. Had they shaved a couple of songs, the overall product would have been a bit more substantial, but the album itself sets out what it intends to do. Elton sounds at his finest, and he also succeeds in making more people aware just out great the great Leon Russell was and is.

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