Leon's Legacy

Live records are for playing the hits. And studio records are the place for experimentations (and a hit or two). Or at least that's what the late Leon Russell believed. The man was an oft-unacknowledged master of the live record, having made many that are a pleasant if sonically variable listen. But Carney, produced by Denny Cordell, is Russell's best studio album until his final closing statement, 2014's Life Journey, though 1975's Will O' The Wisp also has its charms.

Carney contains Russell's biggest hit single, "Tight Rope" but Side Two opens with the very short all-instrumental title track, before plunging into the spooky vocal nonsense, samples and gongs (of course) of "Acid Annapolis." It's this tendency to bounce between earth and the musical outer limits—charitably known as being "psychedelic"—that makes Russell's studio records such an uneven journey. But as is his custom, Side Two of Carney then reverts to the solid rootsy songcraftsmanship of "If The Shoe Fits," which itself is eventually marred by unnecessary pseudo-meaningful overdubs.

However, the album's second side then turns fabulous, slinking into Russell's flowing, bare-bones arrangement of his incomparable, "This Masquerade." That tune alone is enough to firmly install him in the songwriting hall of fame. But do two songs make it worth buying an entire record? Ahh, the age-old album dilemma . . .

But in this case, Chad Kassem's Analogue Productions has wisely followed Russell's death with this superfine 200-gram, 331/3 reissue of this craggy 1970s landmark and so in this case the answer is: Absolutely. As is always the case with Analogue Productions records, great care was taken right down to replicating the original purple and green labels. Russell was a great low-key genius, the kind who would never get a second look in the hits-driven, teen-focused, desiccated music business of today.