Piano Men, Back Again

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When part-time Peachtree Road resident Elton John was planning The Union, his new duets album with singer-songwriter Leon Russell, he told us: “I’ve always loved Leon, and it’s terrible that he’s been almost forgotten about now. ”
The finished project, due out October 19 via Decca Records, is John’s most Southern-rooted album since 2004’s Peachtree Road. Recorded in Los Angeles with producer T Bone Burnett, the album percolates with blues pianos, gospel choirs, pedal steel, and Hammond B3 organ courtesy of legendary Stax player Booker T. Jones. Old pals Neil Young and Brian Wilson also lend vocals.
 
When the piano men first convened in the studio this year, Russell, sixty-eight, was on the mend from brain surgery and John, sixty-three, was battling a forty-year-old case of nerves around his idol. (Russell memorably planted himself in the front row at John’s inaugural U.S. concert tour in 1970 at the Troubadour in L.A.) In the liner notes, John describes The Union as “one of the most personal and wonderful stories you’re ever going to hear in music. Someone coming back . . . and claiming his rightful place in American music.”
 
Photograph by Joseph Guay

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