Leon Russell with Riley Etheridge Jr.
City Winery, Nashville, TN
November 19, 2014
Review by Jeff Moody
Rock & Roll Hall of Famer, Leon Russell, performed two shows at the City Winery last week with opener Riley Etheridge Jr. We caught the second one on Wednesday night and here is what we thought…
I was not familiar with singer-songwriter Riley Etheridge Jr. but, based upon reading good things about him including comparisons to Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt, I made sure to arrive in time to catch his full set. He began with “He Said. She Said” from his first album, Things I Used To Know, before introducing long time producer Wendell Tilley on guitar and Kenji Shinagawa on mandolin. Next up was the title song from his 2011 album, Powder Keg, before a trio of songs from his newest album, The Straight and Narrow Way, which is billed as a “party” record and more reflective of his live shows. Three of his last four songs were from his 2012 album, The Arrogance of Youth, including the title song. I am really looking forward to his next time back in Nashville.
Looking like a hip Santa Claus or maybe the guy from Santa’s Pub, Leon Russell wore his iconic aviator sunglasses and 10-gallon white hat as he walked on stage, sat down at his custom baby grand piano — white with wavy blue flames — and then proceeded to tear through one tune after another…including “I Got a Woman”, “Back to the Island”, “Stranger in a Strange Land” and 5 or 6 others…before he finally spoke to the crowd. The couple sitting at our table said in unison “He speaks!” advising that he has been known not to utter a word until the “encore”. Over the course of the evening, he shared songs and memories of his almost 50-year career. He began at 14, playing rowdy nightclubs in Oklahoma, and still plays about 180 shows a year. His voice may be a little gruffer, but, if possible, even more soulful. It was a thrill hearing such classics as “Delta Lady”, “Tightrope”, “Hummingbird”, and “A Song For You” in this relatively intimate setting. Over the course of the evening, the 72 year old Russell delivered a set full of honky tonk, gospel, and blues piano, classic rock ’n’ roll, and a couple of unforgettable ballads. Although elected to the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2011, his set included a number of familiar covers such as Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”, the Rolling Stones “Wild Horses” and a late set medley of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash / Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone / Paint It Black”.
Guitarist Beau Charron contributed a handful of solos as well as performing on pedal steel, mandolin and organ. Bassist Jackie Wessell provided harmonies and lead vocal on at least one song with drummer Brandon Holder rounding out the fine trio.
Understandably skipping the usual routine of leaving the stage and then returning for an encore, Russell said, “lets just pretend we walked off the stage and came back.” He then concluded with the rock & roll classic, “Roll Over Beethoven” before, presumably, heading home to Mt. Juliet.