Leah Kunkel

Leah Kunkel/I Run with Trouble

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To the general public, Leah Kunkel's name will barely ring a bell, but the younger sister of the legendary Mama Cass Elliot of the Mamas & the Papas fame had an equally stellar career, although one a bit more behind the scenes. A much-in-demand session singer, Kunkel (she married equally feted session drummer Russ Kunkel in 1968) provided backing vocals to records by a coterie of hitmakers -- James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Carly Simon, and Art Garfunkel among them. Finally coming out from the shadows in 1979, Kunkel released her debut solo album, an eponymous set, which her husband produced and of course played on. A second set, I Run with Trouble, arrived the following year, this one produced by Henry Lewy and the singer herself. This reissue brings together both of those Columbia sets, with all the songs annotated by Kunkel in the sleeve notes. Both albums were comprised of astutely chosen covers alongside a handful of Kunkel's own compositions. Very much creatures of their time, the sets were superior soft rock, featuring flawless musicianship, gentle atmospheres, and, particularly on the second set, slick production. All of which, of course, beautifully showcase Kunkel's lovely vocals. With a rich voice and a sweetly emotive style, the singer's talent is obvious. What's equally evident, though, is she doesn't have the punch needed for the big time. It's all extremely pleasant, very polished, and proof positive of why she was an exceptional backing singer. Perhaps earlier in the decade she might have had a shot at stardom in the singer/songwriter scene, but that time had come and gone by the time these sets hit the shops. Still, there's plenty of lessons within for budding idols (American or otherwise) looking to hone their skills.

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