Angel in Disguiseby Leon Russell
You have to hand it to the old one -- he still knows how to rock. It's not that Leon Russell is that old, in 2007 he's 65. It's just that he looks like Moses with all that white hair and his trademark long-flowing white beard. After over a decade of issuing ballad, country-bluegrass, and children's albums, Russell is back with an Okie stomp of a rock and Southern-fried funk album that will raise more than a few eyebrows. Issued on his own eponymous label, Angel in Disguise is a curiosity piece to look at. The sleeve and booklet are all done in black-and-white and Russell is wearing Blues Brothers shades on the cover. What's more, when opening the booklet, there is an extended dedication to his daughters, and on the subsequent pages, there are inscription notes by those same daughters that try to illuminate their father's worth to them and the world. It's enough to make anyone -- save perhaps for Celine Dion -- groan. There are no musician credits anywhere on the set -- they don't appear on his website either, and you can't even assume he used his road band to make the record. But all reservations disappear when the disc is popped into the tray and you hit the "play" button, to be greeted with the swampy, bluesy funk of "Sweet Mimi," written for Russell's wife. The hard percussive "plonk" that is Russell's trademark is immediately apparent, but so are some squalling guitars, a Synclavier (à la Herbie Hancock's Thrust), fat greasy basslines, and a drummer holding the time close. A host of female backing singers gives the entire thing a gospel feel that resembles his '70s work, along with a mix that is muddy and dirty. His piano fills stay rooted in the blues and gospel, while the rest is simply tough and nasty. The hip thing is that it's not a one-off. The vast majority of this set has this same kind of grit, even when the production is a bit bigger, as it is on "How Can This Be Love." The drummer lays down stuttered breakbeats (yeah, really); they are swarmed over by synth, distorted delayed guitars, and Russell's country honk voice. The synths on "Lovin' on My Mind" are so fat, so utterly enormous, they may be too big -- until Russell's vocals, acoustic piano, and the backing chorus temper them. The guitar is as nasty as anything Billy Gibbons ever laid down and with the same Texas-Oklahoma blues whomp. There are even horn charts on "Honey & Eli," though they may well be electronic. No matter. The bottom line is that while one can find things to quibble about on this disc, it's a welcome surprise. There are a pair of ballads here, the country-soul love song "All Through the Night" (with a healthy dose of Hammond B-3) and the nearly insipid "Desire Inside Your Eyes," which is thankfully the final cut. Russell made this record on a budget, and at times it feels like his vision may be too big for the technology to hold. That said, as the songs roll by, the sound of the album becomes part of its charm. The songs are solid, the old guy is riled up and wailin', and this is a better offering than anybody had any right to expect. Given this, it appears that rock & roll's Rip Van Winkle has officially risen from his slumber and is making up for lost time with a roaring welcome-home bash of his own creation.
- Release Date:
- Leon Russell Records
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