Leon Russell

Rhythm & Bluegrass: Hank Wilson, Vol. 4

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The idea of combining Leon Russell -- a rocker -- with the New Grass Revival -- a bluegrass band -- probably seems like a screwy idea on the surface. But Russell knew a thing or two about country roots and the New Grass Revival loved to add pianos and electric guitars to traditional music. Russell and the New Grass Revival even toured for a time and produced a live album. On Rhythm & Bluegrass: Hank Wilson, Vol. 4 this crossover powerhouse covers something old, something new, and everything in between with mixed results. Traditional pieces like "Footprints in the Snow" and "In the Pines" seem less than inspired, while Lester Flatt's "Bluebirds Are Singing for Me" seems merely perfunctory. Everything flows smoother when Russell and the boys fall back on their soulful vocals and rocking rhythms. "I've Just Seen a Face" is pretty snazzy, even if it's derivative of the Dillards' late-'60s version, but the true moment of glory comes shining through on Ray Charles' "I Believe to My Soul." An odd choice, perhaps, but Russell digs deep into the lyric and the New Grass Revival provide full-bodied backup vocals. The album is short -- 30 minutes -- and fans of either artist may find this cross pollination a tad strange. Nonetheless, Rhythm & Bluegrass: Hank Wilson, Vol. 4 succeeds as an unusual progressive bluegrass experiment.

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