'Tumbleweed Connection', issued in late 1970, is the second in the series of three highly orchestrated, dramatic albums produced by Elton John just as his career was taking off in America and before he became well known in Britain. The black 'Elton John' album established him as a major new talent, and this reputation was consolidated and developed in 'Tumbleweed', which contains several bluesey rock numbers but fewer orchestrated songs than its predecessor. However, the album contains no hit singles and thus tends to be known only by dedicated EJ aficionados.
Like the 'Madman' album which followed it, 'Tumbleweed' was very lavishly packaged originally, with numerous line drawings, and sepia photos of Elton and his co-writer Bernie Taupin and their musical associates, and most of this artwork is reproduced in this CD reissue. The album gives the impression of being loosely conceptual, with many of the songs seeming to relate to aspects of rural life in the American Civil War, although this is never explicitly stated. Throughout the album, certainly, there is a sense of nostalgia for mythical images of 19th century America, a subject which clearly interested Taupin, and the musical influence of the early albums by The Band is also evident.
Two songs in particular represent something of a stylistic departure for Elton in that the piano is not used. 'Come down in time' is a little known EJ song but one of his most sensitive ballads, with a haunting arrangement using harp, string bass and the oboe of Karl Jenkins (now well known for his 'Adiemus' orchestral composiitons) as well as the rich orchestration of Paul Buckmaster. 'Love song' is particularly unusual in that it was not written by Elton, but by English folk singer Lesley Duncan, who plays guitar and sings harmonies on the track.
Although many of the songs on the album feature a relatively large group of session musicians, 'Amoreena' shows the beginnings of the stripped-down, hard-rocking band (including drummer Nigel Olsson and bassist Dee Murray) which would work on Elton's recordings from 1972 - 75. In my opinion the three orchestrated songs are the best of the album, with perhaps the most memorable track being the anthemic 'Burn down the mission', in which Elton's distinctive piano and vocal styles combine with both rock band and orchestra in a glorious driving finale to the original album.
This remastered edition also contains two additional tracks. 'Into the old man's shoes' was the B-side to the single 'Your song' and is very similar in sound and sentiment to the rest of 'Tumbleweed'. The second is in stark contrast - an early version of the song 'Madman across the water' which features extensive guitar solos by Mick Ronson from the then David Bowie band. This song was later re-recorded quite differently for the 'Madman' album.