Ignored Obscured Restored
One of my favorite, obscure albums is Asylum Choir II, by Leon Russell and Marc Benno. The duo released their first album, Look Inside the Asylum Choir, in 1968. Russell and Benno played essentially all the instruments on the songs. That album was released on the Smash record label that didn’t have the marketing heft to get it played or heard, despite decent reviews by rock critics.
For Asylum Choir II, Russell and Benno recruited added help from some great session musicians – Jesse Ed Davis (guitars), Carl Radle (bass) and Donald “Duck” Dunn (bass). II was recorded as an immediate follow up to Look Inside but didn’t see the light of day until 1971! This time the disc was released on Shelter Records, another bad choice (though this time Leon could only blame himself since Shelter was a company he co-founded with Denny Cordell).
My choice for SotW is “Trying to Stay Live.”
The lyrics may be a little dated; how’s a guy supposed to make a living if he wants to be a musician “and keep his sideburns too?”
Many of the other songs on the record are period pieces. “Down on the Base” and “Ballad of a Soldier” are anti-Viet Nam war songs and “Sweet Home Chicago” refers to the riots there at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Another track, “Hello, Little Friend,” became pretty well known in a version by Joe Cocker on his second album, Joe Cocker!. (That album also had Cocker’s outstanding take on Russell’s “Delta Lady.”)
But don’t let the time capsule aspect of Asylum Choir II steer you away from listening to the whole thing. The music and arrangements are tremendous!
Enjoy… until next week.