Leon Russell turned 74 in 2016, and spent the final year of his life writing and recording On a Distant Shore, which is due out September 22, 2017, on Palmetto Records. At the time, Russell was still touring (he averaged 150 shows a year), and had logged more than half a century onstage, weaving a legendary path through the worlds of rock & roll, soul, country, blues, and classic pop music.
“He said it was his favorite album he ever made,” reports Leon’s wife, Jan Bridges, of how he felt about On a Distant Shore. “He just loved it. He felt like everything clicked into place.”
As Russell has a long-standing history of hi-res releases, we here at HRAC expect On a Distant Shore to follow suit at 96/24 and/or 192/24.
Released 10 months after Russell’s passing on November 13, 2016 in Nashville, On a Distant Shore is a collection of new songs influenced by the timeless sounds of the Great American Songbook, with updated, road-tested arrangements of “Hummingbird,” “A Song for You,” and “This Masquerade.” Looking to landmark recordings by Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and Tony Bennett for inspiration, Russell rooted On a Distant Shore in timeless melodies, then turned to co-producer Mark Lambert and orchestral arranger Larry Hall to help turn his compositions into what may very well be the biggest, boldest-sounding album of his career.
“He was so prolific,” says Lambert, Russell’s friend and musical collaborator for 30 years. “He was on a roll. There were days when he’d come into the studio and play something he’d written the night before, and he’d have the whole thing mapped out in his head already, even if he hadn’t actually sat down at the piano and played it yet.”
“Leon always wanted to write standards,” adds Jan. “He thought that kind of music was very important. A lot of songs just disappear, but the standards stick around.”
No stranger to timeless music, Leon Russell cut his teeth as a hotshot instrumentalist during the 1960s, playing piano on albums by Frank Sinatra, The Rolling Stones, and The Beach Boys. By the following decade, he’d launched his own label, Shelter Records, and kicked off an acclaimed solo career. With wild, long hair and a ferocious work ethic, Russell blazed a unique trail throughout the 20th century and beyond, performing at George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh one minute and releasing a string of gold-certified albums the next.
“Leon was an awkward romantic, a real softie,” Jan explains. “To me, he always remained a mystery to people outside his circle, but this album gave him a chance to show his emotions. In the song ‘Just Leaves and Grass,’ you can hear him let out a real cry. That’s not faked. He was emotional, and he’d get that way at his show, too. On a Distant Shore is a great portrait of him. An accurate portrait.” Your HRAC CCO, who interviewed Russell about his 2014 album The Journey and his overall career in early 2014, can’t wait to hear the rest of it.