Elton John and Leon Russell - The Union

2010-10-26 10:11
Elton John has hailed this collaboration as a chance to restore his idol and one-time mentor Leon Russell to prominence. Sadly, the pairing fails to rejuvenate Captain Fantastic himself.

The Union was John's idea, and it held promise. Russell's resume includes work with George Harrison, Phil Spector and Joe Cocker, and although he fell into obscurity in recent decades, his blend of gospel and Southern boogie influenced John's transcendent work in the early 1970s.

Alas, there is no Border Song or Burn Down the Mission to be found here. Instead it is mostly more middling late-period Elton, underwritten and overproduced.

John recruited T Bone Burnett to oversee the project, raising the enticing prospect of stripped-down recording sessions with lots of lively piano and two-part harmonies. Instead we get a horn section, 10-member gospel choir and parade of guest artists. Booker T Jones and Robert Randolph sit in, and Neil Young and Brian Wilson contribute vocals. Even Sharon Stone drops by.

The layers of sound leave no room for any chemistry between the co-stars. Burnett mostly buries their pianos in the moneyed mix, and while it is good to hear Russell's distinctive voice again, he cannot turn back the clock for his former protege.

As highlights go, John and Bernie Taupin wrote most of the material, and their best effort is the twangy country shuffle "Jimmie Rodgers' Dream." For a change, John sounds like he could be singing something from Tumbleweed Connection rather than, say, Aida.

This promising collaboration turns out mostly middling late-period Elton, underwritten and overproduced.
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