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The Union (Decca)

Forty years ago, when Elton John was making his U.S. debut at a Los Angeles club, popular session man and songwriter Leon Russell was in the audience, cheering him on. These days, John's level of fame is beyond quantifying while Russell has become a footnote in the rock & roll history books. John pays tribute to one of his oldest fans on The Union, bringing in Russell as a full creative partner. The two piano men return to their signature styles (British folk-pop for John, Okie-in-N'awlins swing for Russell), finding common ground in gospel music. In "Gone to Shiloh," a Civil War-themed hymn that resonates with contemporary relevance, John and Russell effortlessly blend their voices and instruments, with Neil Young's guest vocal appropriately haunting the background. Throughout The Union, the songwriters' familiar melodies and rhythms weave together to create a new sonic tapestry that favors neither artist, but brilliantly synthesizes both. Brian Baker

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