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"Welcome back to real music",
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This review is from: The Union (Deluxe Edition) (Audio CD)
Well thats what the advertising blurb says. And for once I think its justified. Whether you buy the standard album or the deluxe edition you won't be disappointed. This is clearly an album Elton John made purely from the heart, to give Leon Russell the limelight back he deserves. As Elton says on the DVD there are no egos involved in this. So this isn't a superstar pairing designed to make money (well not for Elton anyway). In many ways Leon is the star on this. Its his Piano fills and licks that feature, where Eltons Piano playing is mostly relegated to rhythm parts - and thats how Elton wanted it.
The songs are written mainly by Elton, Leon and Bernie Taupin and there are some absolute corkers on here. The album starts with the wistful/romantic Piano introduction to Leon's "If it wasn't for bad", which turns into a great little rock tune. Leon (with Bernie Taupin) also contributes another standout track "I should have sent Roses". This is a marvellous song with an aching melody.
However if you think that Elton is outclassed by his hero you'd be completely wrong. "Hey Ahab" is a wonderfully rocking Gospel feel track and the Civil War ballad "Gone to Shiloh" is another standout from Elton and Bernie. A special mention for Neil Youngs contribution on this track, which gives it very much a Band like feel with three different vocalists taking the lead.
If I was being very critical I'd say there are a few tracks which seem like fillers - the sort of thing that would have appeared on a normal Elton John album (so still fine songs). However even these are lifted by the arrangements and T-Bone Burnetts production.
So where to place this in the cannon of these two great artists. Leon hasn't recorded the sheer volume that Elton has and so it must rate amongst his best, though not as good as his eponymous 1970 album. Not much is!
The last ten years have been very good for Elton. The return to form of "Songs from the West Coast" (2001) and "The Captain and the Kid" (2006) mean that you can't just dismiss those albums. But overall this is better than those two, and in a different league to most of his 1980s and 90s material. Even "Two Low for Zero" which I recently bought on CD isn't in the same class. So yes you have to go back to the 70s to find better Elton John albums and even then theres only a few that match or better this.