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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Leon Russell And Marc Benno - Asylum Choir II (1971 us, outstanding psych protest bluesy rock with experimental mood, japan SHM 2016 remaster)

1971's "Asylum Choir II" was originally intended as a follow-up to 1968's "Looking Inside the Asylum Choir".  Unfortunately Smash Records executives shelved the set where it sat for the next three years.  The collection was ultimately rescued in 1971 when Leon Russell (enjoying stardom as a solo act), bought the tapes and released the collection on his newly formed Shelter imprint. Ironically, by the time the sophomore album saw the light of day, Russell and singer/multi-instrumentalist Marc Benno had dissolved their musical partnership. 

Musically the set wasn't a major change from the debut, though there were a couple of marked differences.  While the debut was very much a collaboration, this time around the focus was clearly on Russell.  That may have something to do with the fact Russell was responsible for the collection's release.  As on the debut, Benno was credited with co-writing most of the material (there were three tracks credited to Russell alone), but Benno's other contributions were far and few between.  He handled backing vocals on a couple of tracks, but elsewhere was largely absent.

While full of engaging melodies, lyrically the album was a topical timepiece - though I've always found it an engaging reflection of the times.  There were a couple of nifty anti-war tracks ('Down On the Base' and 'Ballad for a Soldier') and some dated social/political commentary ('Sweet Home Chicago' with it's not-to-subtle commentary on 1968's Democratic National Convention and 'Straight Brother'). 

Speaking of dated, amazing how time impacts language ...  "when you're bass player's flat and your drummer drags, don't you wish you had a fag"  Anyone under 30 probably doesn't realize he was talking about cigarettes, not lifestyles.  Bottom line is that it was a good effort, though largely a Russell solo effort and simply not on a par with the debut.

1. Sweet Home Chicago - 3:22
2. Down On The Base - 2:17)
3. Hello Little Friend (Leon Russell) - 2:52
4. Salty Candy - 2:27
5. Tryin' To Stay 'Live - 2:50
6. ...Intro To Rita... - 2:07
7. Straight Brother - 3:07
8. Learn How To Boogie - 2:45
9. Ballad For A Soldier (Leon Russell) - 4:25
10.When You Wish Upon A Fag (Leon Russell) - 4:09
11.Lady In Waiting (Leon Russell) - 3:38
All songs by Leon Russell, Marc Benno except where stated.

*Marc Benno - Guitars, Vocals
*Leon Russell - Bass, Guitar, Keyboards, Piano, Vocals
*Jesse Ed Davis - Guitars
*Chuck Blackwell - Drums
*Carl Radle - Bass
*"Donald Duck" Dunn - Bass

1968  The Asylum Choir - Look Inside (2007 remaster)
1972  Leon Russell - Carney
1970  Marc Benno - Marc Benno (2012 korean remaster)
1973  Marc Benno And The Nightcrawlers - Crawlin (with young Stevie Ray Vaughan, 2006 release) 

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