Leon Russell and the Shelter People – His Best Sounding Album?

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More Leon Russell and the Shelter People

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  • You’ll find excellent Double Plus (A++) from first note to last on this original British pressing 
  • Engineered by Andy and Glyn Johns, this is his best sounding album, especially on a copy that sounds as good as this one does
  • No other Leon Russell album has the richness, the sweetness, and the Tubey Magic of this, his second album from 1971
  • “Russell practically invented what might as well be called Okie rock — with that shit-kicker Gospel sound, heavy on Baptist-revival piano and chorus [a template Elton John found more than a little useful for his first ten albums or so] – and it gets as good on this album as you’ll ever hear.”

Stranger in a Strange Land, which leads off side one, might just be the best song the man ever wrote. What a joy it is to hear it sound so big and powerful.

Domestic Vs. Import

The domestic pressings of Leon Russell and the Shelter People that we’d auditioned over the years always seemed flat, dry, and closed-in. We know that sound well; it’s the sound you hear on records that have been made from dubbed tapes (and it’s the hallmark of the modern Heavy Vinyl reissue, truth be told). It bores us to tears, and had us questioning what we could possibly have seen in the album in the first place. What happened to the glorious sound of early ’70s analog we were expecting to find?

It was only when we dropped the needle on a good British copy that the scales fell from our eyes. We found ourselves dumbfounded by the truly wonderful Tubey Magical richness, space and clarity of the real master tape. Finally, the key to the mystery had been found.

American artist, American pressing? A good rule of thumb but one that breaks down badly on this album, and for two obvious reasons: the very British engineering team of Andy and Glyn Johns.

What to Listen For

If you know Graham Nash’s Song for Beginners (a permanent member of our Top 100 Rock and Pop List) and a masterpiece of engineering, that should give you a good feel for the sound of the best copies of Leon Russell and the Shelter People.

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to most LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Stranger in a Strange Land 
Of Thee I Sing 
It’s a Hard Rain Gonna Fall 
Crystal Closet Queen 
Home Sweet Oklahoma 
Alcatraz

Side Two

The Ballad of Mad Dogs and Englishmen 
It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry 
She Smiles Like a River 
Sweet Emily 
Beware of Darkness

Playboy Review

Leon Russell didn’t get to be the World’s Champion Hip Okie by accident. He earned it on Stones sessions, by writing “Give Peace a Chance,” by teaming up with Joe Cocker — and he’s just paid more dues with Leon Russell and the Shelter People, one of the best rock albums so far this year.

Russell practically invented what might as well be called Okie rock — with that shit-kicker Gospel sound, heavy on Baptist-revival piano and chorus — and it gets as good on this album as you’ll ever hear.

He works wonders on Dylan’s “It’s a Hard Rain Gonna Fall,” wails through a lovingly ironic piano-pounding tribute to Little Richard on “Crystal Closet Queen” and lopes through “She Smiles like a River,” a rolling hill-folky ballad apparently inspired by “Life Is like a Mountain Railway.” And there’s more — much more.

– Playboy, 9/71.

AMG Review

Leon Russell and the Shelter People is a prime example of Russell’s instrumental dexterity and ability to produce some energetic rock & roll.

Poignant and expressive tracks such as “Of Thee I Sing,” “Home Sweet Oklahoma,” and “She Smiles Like a River” all lay claim to Russell’s soulful style and are clear-cut examples of the power that he musters through his spirited piano playing and his voice.

His Dylan covers are just as strong, especially “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and “It Takes a Lot to Laugh,” while “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” and “It’s a Hard Rain Gonna Fall” have him sounding so forceful, they could have been Russell’s own.

A hearty, full-flavored gospel sound is amassed thanks to both the Shelter People and the Tulsa Tops, who back Russell up on most of the tracks, but it’s Russell alone that makes “The Ballad of Mad Dogs and Englishmen” such an expressive piece and the highlight of the album.

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