Leon Russell's adaptability has enabled him to work with artists as diverse as Willie Nelson, Phil Spector, Bob Dylan, Joe Cocker and George Benson. In his prime, Russell's talent gave this wide spectrum of styles a dazzling versatility that was centered by his steely stare and gravelly growl. Now, in the twilight of his career, his adaptability more often seems a lack of direction and his talents mere showmanship. His show at the Wax Museum last night proved that his piano prowess and grainy voice are intact, but his steely stare and sense of purpose are gone.
Backed by young country-rock musicians and four female gospel harmony singers, Russell held court at an electric piano. Crowned by a bright white cowboy hat, Russell offered up a sampling from his diverse career: honky-tonk, L.A. pop, old Dylan, gospel, singer-songwriter. Especially on the up-tempo tunes, Russell's pounding piano chords lifted his young band into a revival tent fervor. On the slower numbers, Russell still rolled the syllables through his unmistakable Oklahoma drawl. Though all the effects were still on display, it seemed the original causes--a demonic sense of rock 'n' roll--had evaporated.