Leon Russell

Moonlight & Love Songs

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Seems like doing an album of standards has become the benchmark of a long career and respectability for those who used to pride themselves on being the outlaws of music. Willie Nelson's done it (several times) and so have many others -- and now Leon Russell joins the crowd. And the resultant Moonlight & Love Songs isn't bad at all, with graceful -- albeit sometimes anonymous -- arrangements. By its very nature, the material is familiar, maybe too familiar at times (do listeners need another version of "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes"?), although Russell does dig up "'Round Midnight" and offers a good, slightly thumping version of "That Lucky Old Sun," with piano courtesy of Bruce Hornsby. Russell's in good, relaxed voice, the abrasive quality that had made him so distinctive in earlier decades largely rubbed away. And he works surprisingly well with orchestral accompaniment, leaving his rock & roll shoes outside the session. There's nothing to fault about this album -- it's smoothly produced, arranged, and performed. The problem is, there's very little exciting about it, either. Russell fans will love it, but overall the songs have been done better by others.

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