Leon Russell, Carney

Richard Gehr

By Richard Gehr

on 05.18.11 in Reviews


Leon Russell

Scowling from the cover like a petulant clown interrupted while applying his makeup, Okie-throated piano man Leon Russell was in full superstar swing when he released his third solo album in 1972. Carney provided fans with a downbeat glimpse or three at the sordid side of success, alternating somber self-reflection with a raised middle finger to sycophants, grifters and rock journalists alike. Backed by his smallest group to date, Russell portrayed himself as love's sad loser in pretty and bleak yet workmanlike tunes such as "Manhattan Island Serenade," the ironic country ballad "My Cricket," and future George Benson hit "This Masquerade" (whose intro is a thing of beauty unto itself).

A high-octane mixture of sensitivity and spleen

Russell's high-octane mixture of sensitivity and spleen pays off in "Tight Rope," a rollicking, carnival-scented No. 1 hit in its day. "The vultures fly around me" he complains in "Out in the Woods," a Dr. John-ish rumble in the jungle with an inexplicable African coda. If the Shoe Fits" — "Can I sit on your lap? Can I give you the clap?" — remains the industry standard for righteous rock-star indignation at the price of fame. And if the instrumental "Acid Annapolis" is any indication, you could blame at least part of the whole colorful charade on the drugs.