Leon Russell

Face in the Crowd

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After a popular period in the first half of the 1970s, Leon Russell dissipated his commercial appeal making duet albums with his wife and country collections. He didn't release a regular studio album between 1979's Life and Love and 1992's Bruce Hornsby-helmed Anything Can Happen. That album was criticized for Hornsby's meddling and performed disappointingly. Seven years later (with another of his "Hank Wilson" country albums in between), Russell is back on a small label with a more characteristic set that he co-produced with his son Teddy Jack. The craggy voice, even craggier now that Russell is in his late fifties, is in place, and the songs are piano-based R&B in his familiar style. Some echoes are even explicit: "Betty Ann," for example, is a calmer rewrite of "Delta Lady." More often, however, the songs are simply consistent with the swampy style Russell pioneered in the early '70s, especially "Message from My Baby," "Mean and Evil," and "Don't Bring the Blues to Bed." No doubt it is far too late for Russell to regain his commercial standing, but old fans will find this album a long-awaited return to form.

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