Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Leon Russell

  • Leon Russell [Shelter, 1970] B+
  • Leon Russell and the Shelter People [Shelter, 1971] B
  • Carney [Shelter, 1972] B-
  • Stop All That Jazz [Shelter, 1974] D+
  • Will o' the Wisp [Shelter, 1975] C-
  • Best of Leon [Shelter, 1976] B+
  • Americana [Paradise, 1978] C-

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Leon Russell [Shelter, 1970]
This is weirder than what you'd expect from a man whose Phil Spector savvy and slick gospel piano have helped stabilize both Delaney & Bonnie and Joe Cocker. Russell has all of Mick Jagger's whine and shriek and none of his power, so while the singing is distinctive, and valid, it grates--impressive material from "Dixie Lullaby" and "Shoot Out on the Plantation" would simply be more so with other vocals. If not Delaney, Bonnie, or Joe, how about Marc Benno? B+

Leon Russell and the Shelter People [Shelter, 1971]
Russell knows how to put music together, but he still has trouble putting it across. His Okie-cum-Brooklyn (ersatz Nworleans?) drawl is the outcry of a confused homeboy driven to fuse rootsy eccentricities with masscult shtick and flash, and his meaningfulness clarifies nothing. The Dylan covers here are trying to tell us something, but in the end Russell's newfound (and competent enough) zeitgeistery ("Stranger in a Strange Land") and protest ("Alcatraz") aren't as interesting as the injokey "Ballad of Mad Dogs and Englishmen." Which tells us something else. B

Carney [Shelter, 1972]
Not the radical falloff some report--just slippage, the first side listenable and the second flaky. Not that I expect "Manhattan Island Serenade" or "Cajun Love Song" to get covered like "This Masquerade." And not that I enjoy anything else as much as "If the Shoe Fits," a cheap shot at hangers-on that says more about the performer's lot than "Tight Rope" and "Magic Mirror" put together. B-

Stop All That Jazz [Shelter, 1974]
The bad jokes start with the cover, which depicts Leon in a cannibal stewpot, the joke being that since he's not even tasty any more why would they bother? (Oo-ee.) Leon's version of "If I Were a Carpenter" has a part about rock stars and groupies that is even dumber than the original. (Stop, my sides are splitting.) And the title is a sly reference to the horn riffs which are the only music on this record I ever want to hear again. (Stop anyway.) D+

Will o' the Wisp [Shelter, 1975]
Last time he played the arrogant layabout and pissed everyone off, so now that he's trying too hard should we feel sorry for him? He knows it's make-or-break, and he obviously wants to do new things. But he just doesn't have the chops, not even conceptually. C-

Best of Leon [Shelter, 1976]
From "Roll Away the Stone," more iconoclastic than Mott the Hoople's, to "Stranger in a Strange Land," more iconoclastic than Robert Heinlein's, the first side reminds you what an uncommon rock and roller he can be. But on side two, which yokes "A Song for You," "This Masquerade," and "Hummingbird" to three potboilers from Will o' the Wisp, you realize that his iconoclasm was (is?) as accidental as his standards. B+

Americana [Paradise, 1978]
I never quite got Leon's point back in the days of mad dogs and superstars, so you'll forgive me for having allowed his very first Kim Fowley collaboration to slip off the charts (from a high of 110 in Record World) before it reached my turntable. Turns out to be notable as a real con artists' summit--there's a tribute to "Elvis and Marilyn" that is now being distributed in verse form, a soap opera called "Housewife" that panders so ecumenically it's been covered by Wayne Newton, and a song to Leon's latest agent, Jesus. C-

Further Notes:

Everything Rocks and Nothing Ever Dies [1990s]