No matter how you cut it, this is terrific violin playing. And the best–somewhat ironically, considering the disc’s title–comes after the program’s opening Tartini (“Devil’s Trill”) sonata. Mela Tenenbaum is a staunchly confident violinist who projects assured technique and a thorough grasp of the exhibitionistic aspects of the works she presents here. Behind these sonatas, each of which is marked by formidable technical demands, is the work of a composer who was intimately acquainted with the violin (all were acknowledged virtuosos) and who knew how to structure a work for maximum dramatic impact.
Leon Russell's accolades are monumental in a number of categories, from songwriting (he wrote Joe Cocker's "Delta Lady") to session playing (with the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, just to name a few) to his solo work. Unfortunately, it's the last category that never really attracted as much attention as it should have, despite a multitude of blues-based gospel recordings and piano-led, Southern-styled rock albums released throughout the 1970s. Leon Russell and the Shelter People is a prime example of Russell's instrumental dexterity and ability to produce some energetic rock & roll. Poignant and expressive tracks such as "Of Thee I Sing," "Home Sweet Oklahoma," and "She Smiles Like a River" all lay claim to Russell's soulful style and are clear-cut examples of the power that he musters through his spirited piano playing and his voice. His Dylan covers are just as strong, especially "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" and "It Takes a Lot to Laugh," while "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" and "It's a Hard Rain Gonna Fall" have him sounding so forceful, they could have been Russell's own.