Leon Russell: On a Distant Shore

Leon Russell
On a Distant Shore

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One man boasting a 50-year career in writing, playing, arranging, and singing that would be impressive if you spread that output across three musicians, Leon Russell was a true American musical icon. After his death last year (at the age of 74) we have Russell’s posthumous album, On a Distant Shore. It features Russell originals and some re-workings of his classics. The scratchy-voiced piano player dips back into his love for the Great American Songbook with lush strings, horns, and full swampy band reads across these perfect dozen tunes.

The album ranges from the horn-led MOR sway of the title track and opener (where Russell sounds especially strong vocally), to a full horn/string read on his classic “Masquerade,” to new tunes like the commercially bluesy (with Russell at the hard end of his vocal ability) “Just Leaves and Grass,” and the big string sweeps of “A Distant Shore,” with its movie-soundtrack opening. This one especially speaks of a man looking back at his past, with lines like, “I’m here alone and just hanging on.”

On a Distant Shore ends with what is arguably Leon Russell’s most famous song, “A Song for You,” reworked with layered strings and Russell again sounding really strong vocally.

Leon Russell’s last years were marred by bad health, so it’s no surprise he felt his mortality deeper than he had previously in his life. You can pretty much put this album on the shelf next to Johnny Cash’s Ain’t No Grave, and David Bowie’s Blackstar.

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