The Union

[Decca Records]

This much-anticipated collaboration between Elton John and Leon Russell had all the ingredients for greatness—two brilliant singers and pianists, an extraordinary producer in T Bone Burnett, and a profound mutual admiration between the artists involved. It turns out that “greatness” is too strong a word, but the album does have its rewards. As you might expect, The Union mixes Russell’s bluesy, gospel-flavored keyboard work with John’s more pop-oriented approach. Fine moments include “Gone to Shiloh,” a haunted ballad (featuring guest vocals from Neil Young) that sits well alongside Russell’s early ’70s work; “Jimmie Rodgers’ Dream,” a light-hearted country-pop tune laced with pedal steel; and “Monkey Suit,” a barrelhouse boogie rocker fitted with a Cajun vibe and a white-robed gospel chorus. One wishes the songwriting were stronger, given the presence of two of the premier contemporary-music composers of our times. Instead, a sense of sublime elegance seems to have been substituted for memorable songs. –Russell Hall

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