Omnivore Recordings released Leon Russell’s Live In Japan in 2011. That marked the historic album’s first release outside of Japan and its first time on CD anywhere. The original performance was recorded in Japan on November 8, 1973, at the Nippon Budokan Hall. This special release also contains seven previously unissued live performances recorded in Houston, Texas, on April 22, 1971. Russell penned the liner notes to this deluxe collection.

Leon Russell (born Claude Russell Bridges) operated at the peak of his career during this era. During the time these shows were recorded Russell already worked with Jerry Lee Lewis, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Glen Campbell, Joe Cocker, Rita Coolidge, George Harrison, Delaney Bramlett, Freddie King, James Burton, Eric Clapton, J.J. Cale and a long list of other musical heavyweights.

Live In Japan features the backup vocals of the group Black Grass and Russell’s stellar Shelter People band. Years later, Russell spoke about this reissue: “I am excited to hear the Live In Japan album myself having not heard these tapes in so many years.”

Live In Japan opens with a rollicking gospel version of Rev. Patrick Henderson’s “Heaven” where Russell straps on a Les Paul. Next, the group renders the Harlan/Arlen standard “Over The Rainbow” before easing into Russell’s “God Put A Rainbow”. “Queen of the Roller Derby” never sounded as good as it does on Live In Japan.

Russell leads the band through an incandescent version of “Roll Away The Stone” from his first solo album. Russell’s hit “Tight Rope” from Carney reiterates his songwriting power on this live show. “Sweet Emily” emits a rhythmic warmth. Wayne Perkins plays a smoking six-string on “Alcatraz”. A medley of “A Song For You/Of Thee I Sing/Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms” washes over the Japanese audience to end this memorable performance.

Demolished in 1998, the historic Sam Houston Coliseum hosted such acts as The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Elvis Presley and later The Black Crowes. Johnny Ace shot himself backstage at the Sam Houston Coliseum on Christmas Eve in 1964. This package contains Russell’s first show of his 1971 tour that started at ‘The Coliseum’ in Houston.

The Houston disc begins with a soulful version of “Alcatraz”. An amazing take of Russell’s brilliant song “Stranger In A Strange Land” follows, and it’s clear this collection captures the spirit of Russell’s live performances. “Groupie (Superstar)” offers a mellow sentiment featuring the vocals of Kathi McDonald.

Russell then charges into Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven”, which sounds like a locomotive out of control. A rocking medley of “Blues Power/Shootout On The Plantation/As The Years Go By/The Woman I Love” stands as a potent dose of musical gumbo. Russell always favored covering The Stones song “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, and here a great version is preserved. “Of Thee I Sing/Yes I Am” closes the Houston show with a gospel jubilance.

Leon Russell’s Live In Japan captures the songwriter at his apex. Russell died in his sleep at his Tennessee home on November 13, 2016.