Leon Russell | Signature Songs – Reissue Review


Hearing a songwriter sing and play, accompanied by only a piano or acoustic guitar, you can surely hear the uniqueness of their talent. This is most certainly the case on the 2023 edition of Leon Russell’s Signature Songs. Originally released in 2001 and long out of print, this 11-song collection of the great musician’s boogie-woogie piano playing and sandpapery singing of some of his best-known tunes is a real gem for the collection.

Russell, known as “The Master of Space and Time,” appeared on over 400 albums during his half-century career. Playing piano as part of the famous Los Angeles-based “Wrecking Crew,” appearing on the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” and Jan and Dean’s “The Little Old Lady (From Pasadena),” Russell was part of Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen album and tour in 1970 (Russell wrote “Delta Lady” which Cocker had a hit with) and George Harrison’s Concert For Bangladesh. He established his solo career with his self-titled debut album in 1970.

Russell’s genre-defying output, hits and eventually elusiveness made him one of music’s most mythical figures. His time in the limelight was pretty done due to a series of underperforming releases and health problems. Then Elton John helped resurrect the man’s career when he and Russell collaborated their 2010 The Union album. It marked the first time Russell had been on the charts in over 30 years.

Across these near dozen on Signature Songs, we get Russell’s voice and piano take on “Tight Rope,” the jumpy swampy play of “Delta Lady,” an exquisite piano-led “Lady Blue,” and the opener, one of Russell’s best-known solo numbers, “A Song For You.” Signature Songs ends with “This Masquerade. “a song that originally appeared on 1972’s Carney album. It’s been covered by Helen Reddy, the Carpenters. and George Benson, who took it to the Top 10. Classic songs like this don’t need much more than the bare bones and here is a sublime example; a sad, yet perfect farewell from one of America’s most unique musical icons. It is with the great care and acknowledgment that Dark Horse Records, founded by Russell’s friend George Harrison, has reissued Signature Songs on CD, digital download, and, for the very first time, vinyl, for audiences new and old

~ Ralph Greco, Jr.

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