Leon Russell

Southern-fried piano swamp funk doesn't get better than Leon Russell. His greasy R&B cadges a hopping, Delta blues stomp, fueled by his gravelly croak and his percussive pounding at the piano. Russell left Tulsa for L.A. at 16. There, he learned guitar from rockabilly legend James Burton and soon became a member of Phil Spector's studio posse. During the mid-'60s, he'd record (and often arrange) such classics as Ike and Tina Turner's "River Deep, Mountain High," and the Byrds' "Mr. Tambourine Man." His first hit was Joe Cocker's "Delta Lady," in '69. Over the next few years, Russell would become an icon, playing alongside Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and the Rolling Stones, writing the Carpenters' hit "Superstar" and releasing the seminal three-album set Leon Live in '73. The tour supported his signature circus-themed hit "Tightrope," off 1972's hit album Carny. Though he scored another hit two years later with the light pop "Lady Blue," Russell's star had already receded. He's released just a handful of albums in the past 25 years, making last year's Angel in Disguise that much more surprising. Still, Russell hits his mark with furious passion and purpose, delivering a hot-blooded sound reminiscent of his halcyon days.

 
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