At his best, rock session man Leon Russell sounded like a swamp-fueled Creedence Clearwater Revival with a shot of Dylan. At his worst, his grating voice was merged with songs too weird to be enjoyable.
Carney contains the best of both worlds with a nod to the latter category. There is a reason why Russell is the most famous nobody in rock -- he built everyone else's careers, yet his own never really went anywhere, save for the hit "Lady Blue" in 1975, and this release shows why.
Classic rock fans might remember "Tightrope," which uses circus
images to explain the singer's stance in life ("I'm up on the
tightrope / One side's hate and one is hope / But to top that off,
my head is all you see"). It's a pretty good song, but Russell's
nasally swamp drawl is an acquired taste that either enhances or
ruins the song, no middle ground.
"Out In The Woods" is a nice little shuffle number, while "Roller Derby" is an all-too-brief honky tonk piece inspired by gospel - both get points for being original. Really, the beauty of this album is in its originality, but original does not always equal good, as the album eventually realizes.
A number of melancholy songs about self-reflection and loss pepper this release. "Manhattan Island Serenade" veers between minor chords/depressing lyrics and major chords/hopeful lyrics, carried by a piano and the sound of rain. "Me And Baby Jane" is an embarrassing try at a love song, while "This Masquerade" is a tearjerker about divorce, backed up by a mournful flute.
There really isn't any happiness on the album, except for the throwaway 40-second title track and the awful "Cajun Love Song." "If The Shoe Fits" is also rather upbeat, with Russell channeling Jethro Tull to mediocre results, while "My Cricket" is an extremely slow ballad lacking emotion but compensating with Russell's awful voice. There is also a psychedelic tune called "Acid Annapolis," which is just people imitating Scooby Doo-type ghosts for three minutes, and that's probably all I need to say.
Russell redeems himself with "Magic Mirror," in which his voice sounds right in place singing the tale of a man who doesn't know his place in the world ("The sellers think I'm merchandise / They'll have me for a song / The left ones think I'm right / The right ones think I'm wrong"). The piano and finger-snaps give the song a casual roadside feel, and the listener can picture Russell telling his side of the story to the truck driver that picked him up as he was hitchhiking somewhere far from home.
Carney is certainly original and interesting, an emotional concept album that could have been so much better. Sadly, the bad or mediocre songs here outweigh the high points, making this nothing more than a curiosity for the interested.
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