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From the Country Standard Time Archives

Leon Russell hops on a magical flight

Coach House Concert Hall, San Juan Capistrano, Cal., July 9, 1998

By Dan MacIntosh

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, CAL. - If you only read the set list for this Leon Russell concert, you'd walk away convinced that it was a diehard country show.

Drawing from his most recent album "Legend In My Time - Hank Wilson Vol III," Russell sang Ernie Ford's "Sixteen Tons," "Sweet Dreams" and "Crazy," both associated with Patsy Cline, and "Night Life," popularized by Willie Nelson.

But if you closed your eyes and just listened to the music, you might just find yourself transported to a New Orleans Bourbon Street nightclub. This is because Russell's piano style sounds a lot like Dr. John's, and so does his singing.

With a band that featured two guitarists, a bassist, and a drummer, it was Russell's keyboards - both synths and natural sounds - that dominated the musical arrangements. So much so, in fact, that Russell's own playing oftentimes overshadowed the rest of his crew.

Russell is an extremely talented musician, but it would have been nice to hear a little more of his band. Part of this blame, though, ought to be leveled at the soundman. The mix was muddy beyond belief at the beginning, and only got a little better towards the end.

At the end, Russell honored an audience member's request for "Somewhere Over The Rainbow," and this turned out to be the evening's highlight. With the rest of the band taking a break, Russell saturated this classic with all of the wonderment its dreamlike words so richly deserve.

When he was finished, everybody knew that they weren't in Kansas anymore. They weren't really at a country music show either, for that matter. This fact wasn't important, though, because no matter what you might call it, the place where Russell leads listeners to is always somewhat of a magical flight. It may not be over the rainbow, per se, but it's definitely out of this world.