When: Fri., July 10, 8 p.m. 2015
FRIDAY, JULY 10
LINCOLN THEATRE, RALEIGH—With his long, white beard, Leon Russell could be Jesus' son or a lost relative of ZZ Top's Dusty Hill. His music inspires similar reverence. There's always been something wild and untamed to the 73-year-old's output. Even in his twilight, his music crackles with bone-deep soul.
The Okie legend toured behind Jerry Lee Lewis in his teens and learned guitar from the legendary James Burton on his way to becoming an esteemed session musician. Before launching a solo career in the '70s with his terrific eponymous debut, Russell had already arranged Ike & Tina Turner's "River Deep Mountain High" and played on The Byrds' "Mr. Tambourine Man." But Leon Russell showcased his mastery of a vast Americana range, from swamp-bucket blues to Southern soul. The impassioned psychedelic ode "Hummingbird" even featured a gospel choir coda. Russell looked like a character and sang like Old Man River's roommate, a down-home showmanship that fit the times. He played the Concert for Bangladesh, toured with the Stones and authored the radio staple "Tightrope."
By the close of the '70s, though, Russell had slid from beneath the spotlight. Still, he continued his exploration of indigenous folk. He released four volumes of country in his Hank Wilson series and dipped further into blues and gospel. He even recorded with the Nashville Symphony for 2001's Moonlight & Love Songs.
Given the post-O Brother retro tilt of the last decade, perhaps it's inevitable that Russell return to prominence. His 2010 Elton John collaboration, The Union, helped, as did 2006's stunning Angel In Disguise. A flashback to the gritty, soulful rock on which he made his name, it should have schooled Jack White and Dan Auerbach.
For last year's Life Journey, Russell surveyed a career's worth of styles in a requisitely pensive, wistful manner, suggested by titles such as "Think of Me" and "I'm Afraid the Masquerade is Over." But Russell hasn't given up the ghost, as he sounds rather vibrant on a cover of "Fever" and in revisiting his own classic, "Down In Dixieland."
Indeed, Russell has changed little in 50 years. At least the world's opened wide enough to embrace his full spectrum of roots music eminence. With Jason Adamo Duo. 8 p.m., $20–$35, 126 E. Cabarrus St., Raleigh, 919-821-4111, www.lincolntheatre.com. —Chris Parker