Leon’s Bluegrass Record a Winner
BY Vern Stefanic
Mar 13, 1981
1/16/13 at 2:23 AM
Now it’s official. An Era has been documented.
Leon Russell’s involvement with the New Grass Revival has been preserved for posterity because “The Live Album,” a rollicking, joyous work recorded last May in Pasadena, Calif., has finally been released.
Russell, the Tulsa native who became a rock music legend, has been touring extensively with the four-man New Grass Revival for nearly two years now – including four successful Tulsa concerts. Their shows have been emotional, energy-charged performances, and that spirit finds its way onto the album.
Included here are songs that have become standards for Russell and his band, songs that add a touch of bluegrass to rock, pop, gospel and even rhythm ‘n’ blues tunes.
Russell, continuing a tradition started during a live broadcast on Tulsa radio station KMOD, opens the album with the classic “Over the Rainbow,” and the song is spellbinding; this version is slower and more moving than his radio rendition.
From there the band breaks into Russell songs like “One More Love Song,” “Prince of Peace,” and “Stranger in a Strange Land” each done in the up-tempo style that marks Russell’s current image.
But the band also adds its distinctive touch to tunes by the Rolling Stones (“Wild Horses,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”), Hank Williams (“Jambalaya”), McCartney-Lennon (“I’ve Just Seen a Face”) and even Ray Charles (“I Believe to My Soul”). It’s an impressive program.
Russell, too, is impressive, right down to his foot-stomping and howling. The band races through the songs, barely pausing between them.
Yet, it should be noted that while Russell adds a new touch to these songs, the touch isn’t always better. The new version of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” is puny when compared with the original, or with Russell’s extraordinary version of the same tune during the Bangladesh concert.
And New Gras s isn’t an overly talented band. Only bass player-singer John Cowan is an exceptional talent and he and Russell have a tendency to dominate the entire album.
That’s not entirely bad – They are the group’s best parts.
But one wonders how long Russell will continue to travel with New Grass. His career has been gypsy-like, marked by movement and change. At times Russell’s new arrangements sound a touch too fluffy to be taken seriously, and perhaps this project is simply his way of having fun while biding his time.
Even if that’s the case, this album is still something that will give listeners a good time, too. “The Live Album” doesn’t add much to music history, but it’s music to enjoy.