On Tonight: Elton John, Leon Russell Forge ‘The Union’

In the great tradition of rock stars resurrecting heroes of the past (Bruce Springsteen and Gary U.S. Bonds, Tom Petty and Del Shannon), Elton John went back to find Leon Russell, one of his original inspirations, to make an album called “The Union” (HBO, 9 p.m.)

T-Bone Burnett was enlisted to produce and Cameron Crowe was around to capture just about every aspect of it, from their initial meeting, to their writing songs and recording them, to a cover photo shot with Annie Liebowitz to one of their initial joint concerts.

Whatever the fate of his recent feature film career (“We Bought a Zoo” was his most recent), Crowe is still a great rock journalist, and draws quite a bit out of John (who weeps when he hears a new Russell song) and as much as he can from the onetime Master of Space and Time, whose piano can be heard on dozens of hit records from the Byrds and Beach Boys to the Phil Spector stuff, and who had a brief, stellar career as front man, producer and writer (it’s his “Superstar” that is still sung most weeks on “American Idol,” including last night’s episode, when it was attributed by its singer to Luther Vandross).

It’s a great behind the scenes glimpse at the making of a solid record. But its underlying mystery – will it hit the Top 10? – is already well known, since it was released two years ago. The film certainly makes you want to go out and buy the record, though – as well as play some early Elton and Leon.

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