Life Journey

After 50 years as a session player, producer, songwriter, label owner, rock star and – on 2010's The Union – as Elton John's duet partner, Leon Russell could tell tales strong enough to curdle milk. Instead, the 72-year-old pianist crafts a less slanderous but equally colorful musical autobiography on Life Journey, a wry collection of blues, jazz and pop oldies fleshed out by two Russell compositions, the ribald rocker "Big Lips" and the big-band finale, "Down in Dixieland." Russell's croon may be raspy, but it's always eloquent: Dig the fondness he brings to "Georgia on My Mind" while coaxing from his keys a kindred finesse that's alternately yearning and joyous.

From The Archives Issue 1206: April 10, 2014