Legendary American singer and pianist Leon Russell has entertained the world for five decades, getting his start as an in-demand Wrecking Crew session player and playing on hundreds of hit records before he began releasing his own albums in 1967. On April 1, the day before his 72nd birthday, Leon Russell will release a new studio album, titled Life Journey, via Universal Music Enterprises (UMe).
Life Journey features newly written original songs and Russell’s turns on classics that resonate with the two-time GRAMMY® winner as important to his musical trajectory. Recorded and mixed by Al Schmitt at Capitol Studios, the album is produced by Tommy LiPuma and executive produced by Elton John, with whom Russell most recently collaborated for 2010’s critically acclaimed album, The Union.
“This is a record of my musical journey through life,” Russell writes in a package essay for Life Journey. “It reflects pieces of things that I have done and things I never did, for one reason or another.”
The Lawton, Oklahoma native’s new original songs on Life Journey are “Big Lips,” a boisterous romp built around his vocals and piano, with Abe Laboriel Jr. on drums, Willie Weeks on bass, and Chris Simmons on slide guitar, and “Down In Dixieland.” The album-closing ode to Louisiana Dixieland jazz features Russell’s vocals and piano leading a parade of horns arranged and conducted by John Clayton, including Ira Nepus on trombone, Darrell Leonard on trumpet and flugelhorn, and James Gordon on clarinet, as well as the aforementioned Laboriel Jr., Weeks, and Simmons on their respective instruments.
One of popular music’s most celebrated songwriters and performers, Russell’s songs have hit the charts across several genres and have been covered by a diverse range of artists. Ray Charles recorded “A Song For You,” B.B. King had a hit with “Hummingbird,” The Carpenters with “Superstar,” and Joe Cocker with “Delta Lady.” George Benson won 1976’s Record of the Year GRAMMY® Award for his cover of Russell’s "This Masquerade" and it became the first song in music history to hit No. 1 across the jazz, pop, and R&B charts. In 2011, Russell was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
On Life Journey, Russell celebrates the songs of 10 other writers, infusing them with the vibrant bounce and spirit that has long been his signature. Russell opens the album with Robert Johnson’s “Come On In My Kitchen,” leading a tour of his majestic musical house that continues with Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell’s “Georgia On My Mind,” Haven Gillespie and Beasley Smith’s “That Lucky Old Sun,” John Davenport and Eddie Cooley’s “Fever,” Mike Reid’s “Think Of Me,” Duke Ellington and Paul Francis Webster’s “I Got It Bad & That Ain’t Good,” Herb Magidson and Allie Wrubel’s “The Masquerade Is Over” (featuring a lush orchestral arrangement, a wistful glance back to Russell’s own “This Masquerade”), Paul Anka’s “I Really Miss You,” Billy Joel’s “New York State Of Mind,” and Johnny Fuller, Robert L. Geddins, and David Rosenbaum’s “Fool’s Paradise.”
Other musicians who joined Russell to record Life Journey include Robben Ford, who played guitar on “That Lucky Old Sun” and “Fool’s Paradise,” Jeff Hamilton and John Clayton, who played drums and bass on “The Masquerade Is Over,” “Think Of Me,” and “I Really Miss You,” respectively, with Anthony Wilson on guitar for “The Masquerade Is Over” and “I Really Miss You.” Greg Leisz played pedal steel guitar on “That Lucky Old Sun,” “Think Of Me,” and “I Really Miss You,” Larry Goldings played Hammond B3 organ on “That Lucky Old Sun,” “Fever,” “Think Of Me,” and “Fool’s Paradise,” and the Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra played on “Georgia On My Mind,” “I Got It Bad & That Ain’t Good,” and “New York State Of Mind.”
With Life Journey, Leon Russell reminisces with some of the musical touchstones that have inspired him, while bringing forth new songs of his own for an album that looks back with the love, loss, joy, and peace that’s collected during a life well lived. How fortunate the world is for Leon Russell to share his life and time with us in song, all these years.
Leon Russell: Life Journey
1. Come On In My Kitchen
2. Big Lips
3. Georgia On My Mind
4. That Lucky Old Sun
6. Think Of Me
7. I Got It Bad & That Ain’t Good
8. The Masquerade Is Over
9. I Really Miss You
10. New York State Of Mind
11. Fool’s Paradise
12. Down In Dixieland