on 13 August 2001
'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.
I have always suspected that certain musicians resent being told by fans that one of their earlier albums remains a great favorite. I've always imagined that they would prefer that their fans share and appreciate their development and evolution: "this is my latest and it therefore represents my best work!" However, the album listener is not burdened by the pains of artistic growth. Rather, the music that I heard at a certain time in my life remains frozen in time and memory. For me, Tumbleweed Connection is the best album Elton John ever recorded.
It has been a long time since I actually sat down and listened to the album. But I purchased Tumbleweed Connection after someone dismissed John as merely a great showman and performer for whom the performance overshadows the music. I mentioned Tumbleweed Connection as an argument and got a blank stare. That is a shame because I had forgotten how good it was. Every song works, starting with Ballad of a Well-Known Gun through Burn Down the Mission. The only song in which John did not collaborate with Taupin, Love Song by Lesley Duncan, is a beautiful, haunting melody that remains one of my favorite John tunes.
Tumbleweed Connection was John's third album and was initially released in 1970. It also represents the height (for me) of John's collaboration with lyricist Bernie Taupin. Taupin was, by all accounts fascinated by life in the post-Civil War south and west. It should also be no surprise that Taupin was almost certainly influenced by The Band's album released that same year, "The Band", which contained songs such as Up on Cripple Creek and The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. Ironically the Band's album is ranked number 45 on the Rolling Stone list of greatest albums while Tumbleweed Connection comes in at number 463.
The album did not spawn any `big hits' and none of the songs from Tumbleweed Connection have made it onto any compilation of John's greatest hits. However, Tumbleweed Connection when taken as a whole is, in my opinion, a great album. Any fan of John would do well to add this to their collection. I would also recommend Tumbleweed Connection to those who may be prone to dismissing John as simply a `performer'. I think listening to Tumbleweed Connection may just change your mind.
Highly recommended. L. Fleisig
Before Elton John had really hit the big time, he was hard at work honing his stunning song-writing skills, and was allowed to explore themes in depth, and Tumbleweed Connection is a prime example of both of these factors. Bernie Taupin had a fascination with the 'West' and his lyrics inspired John to explore the theme to an extent that today seems slightly bizarre, but they get away with it for one simple reason, this album is stuffed full of brilliant songs that are 'off the beaten track' of what are considered Elton John 'standards'.
There are some real surprises in the content of this album, not least the full blooded attempts at country rock in 'Country Comfort' and 'Son Of Your Father'. There is also some of his most original and poignant tracks here too, as in the beautiful 'Come Down In Time' and 'My Father's Gun'. Simplicity is the key to another couple of tracks, including 'Love Song' which sounds more like Fleetwood Mac's 'Rumours' than anything else, and the slightly morose 'Talking Old Soldiers'.
But the highlights, as you might expect from such a potent song-writing force, are really something else. 'Amoreena' is a powerful, tight song with punching piano and Hammond Organ, and is sung with a passion so fierce, it blows you away. 'Where To Now St. Peter?' is as close to proper psychedelia that Elton John ever got, and has a fascinating lyric to boot. 'Burn Down The Mission' is a gospel-oriented song not far removed from 'Border Song', which has a punchy brass section finale at the end of each part of the song.
The CD also includes two extra tracks, one of which is really worth having, the original version of 'Madman Across The Water'. Quite why it is not an extra track on 'Madman Across The Water' itself is a bit of a mystery, but this CD really benefits for it, and it wouldn't sound at all out of place on the album as a bona-fide track anyway.
The country theme explored in some of the songs and the instrumentation may not be to everyones tastes initially, but the standard of songcraft on this album, coupled with stunning performances throughout the album should make up for any reservations you may have about investing in this great album.
I have most of Eltons albums and this is the one I've played the most over the years. Heavily influnced by The Band, this captures Elton at the start of his golden period. I don't think he's ever beaten this album. However Yellow Brick Road this is not! Country/blues/folk is where this album takes its roots from.
Eltons Piano playing is heard at its best on this album, high in the mix a lot of the time, and not drowned by other keyboards as on later albums. Listen to Amoreena which has plenty of great gospel/blues licks. Another favourite on this album is My Fathers Gun, not to mention Burn Down The Mission which Elton still plays to this day (35 years later).
This could almost be classed as roots music now. It sounds absurd doesn't it, Elton John roots music, but people forget that behind the glitz and the showman, Elton is primarily a songwriter and musician. Listen to this album and forget the newspaper headlines!
on 16 May 2014
Elton's 3rd studio release sees the John/Taupin writing team heading out in the direction of 19th century America; country and rock are the prevailing flavours stylistically and, overall, this is a highly enjoyable album despite the lack of any hit singles. 'Ballad Of A Well-Known Gun' kicks things off in a rock/gospel groove (a common theme throughout) and is quickly followed by a lovely ballad 'Come Down In Time' as well as the highly infectious 'Country Comfort'.
Tracks 4-7 are all interesting in their own right; 'My Father's Gun' is another full-blooded gospel number whilst 'Love Song' [written by Lesley Duncan] is an exquisite ballad and a rare example of an album track which Elton didn't co-write. Tracks 8-10, which complete the running order, are all quite superb ~ 'Amoreena' is a classic rock song, 'Talking Old Soldiers' is a superior piano/vocal ballad whilst 'Burn Down The Mission' veers cleverly between mid-pace grandeur and thunderous rock and roll. Although this album is a long way away from the commercial glam rock days of the mid-1970s, I loved it more than I thought I would and, thus, I recommend that you buy it.
Reginald Dwight's 3rd album proper was released in late 1970 and firmly established Elton John as one of the great singer-songwriters of the Seventies. This June 2008 DELUXE EDITION on Mercury 06007 53052556 is a fully upgraded 2CD version of that breakthrough vinyl album (much better than the 1995 single disc version) - and in my books is one of the jewels in Universal’s very hit and miss ‘DE’ Series. Here are the English cowboys and American pistols:
1. Ballad Of A Well-Known Gun
2. Come Down In Time
3. Country Comfort
4. Son Of Your Father
5. My Father’s Gun
6. Where To Now St. Peter?
7. Love Song
8. Talking Old Soldiers
9. Burn Down The Mission
Disc 1 is the 10-track album originally released in the UK in October 1970 on DJM Records DJLPS 410 and in the USA on Uni Records 73096 (47:04 minutes)
1. There Goes A Well-Known Gun
2. Come Down In Time (Piano Demo)
3. Country Comfort (Piano Demo)
4. Son Of Your Father
5. Talking Old Soldiers (Piano Demo)
6. Into The Old Man’s Shoes (Piano Demo)
7. Sisters Of The Cross (Piano Demo)
8. Madman Across The Water (Original Version)
9. Into The Old Man’s Shoes
10. My Father’s Gun (BBC Session)
11. Ballad Of A Well-Known Gun (BBC Session)
12. Burn Down The Mission (BBC Session)
13. Amoreena (BBC Session)
Disc 2 is the BONUS. 10 of the 13 tracks are PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED (1 to 7 and 11 to 13) while the other 3 are rarities with upgraded sound from their previous release in 1988 (1 track) and 1995 (2 tracks) (61:07 minutes)
The LP originally sported a textured gatefold sleeve with an attached 12-page booklet which has been faithfully reproduced in the excellent 28-page booklet that accompanies this set. Along with photos from the time of both Elton and Bernie, there's a very informative new essay by noted writer JOHN TOBLER, press adverts and billboard posters from 1970, session details and the fold-out flaps of the digipak even reflect the pictures on the left and right of the inner gatefold of the original album - all very nice touches indeed. However, if I was to nitpick, the outer plastic wrap lists no information of any kind, which means the casual buyer picking it up off a shelf can't tell what's inside this DELUXE EDITION? But that's a minor niggle that can be fixed on repressings, because the really big news is the SOUND....
Sourcing the first generation original masters tapes from the Universal Archives, GIOVANNI SCATOLA and TONY COUSINS at Metropolis Mastering in London have carried out the re-mastering - and surely some kind of Audio Award awaits each of them. As the owner of way too many re-issue CDs - this is simply one of the best remasters of an old album that I've ever heard. Twenty seconds into the opener and I was already writing a review and picking my jaw up off the table as I went!
So what's changed? When GUS DUDGEON replaced the useless 1980s CDs with the excellent 1995 remasters, he got the best sound out of the tapes that he could at the time (he sadly passed away a few years ago). But 13 years on to 2008 and that's a lifetime in remastering techniques. These 2008 versions breathe - you can hear everything - and clearly too. A good example is the quietly delicate duet with LESLEY DUNCAN on her own "Love Song" - as pretty a tune as you could hope to hear - it's BEAUTIFUL now - finally given the clarity that it has always deserved. (She later did her own superlative version on GM Records in 1974).
Other vocal contributions come from DUSTY SPRINGFIELD, MADELINE BELL and Bronze Label Artist TONY HAZZARD on "My Father's Gun" and "Ballad Of A Well-Known Gun". UK folk duo SUE and SUNNY make a rare appearance on "Son Of Your Father" while IAN DUCK, the lead vocalist for HOOKFOOT puts in great harmonica work on one of the album standouts "Country Comfort". In fact, the majority of HOOKFOOT (his DJM label mates) makes up the bulk of his band - and would stay with him for years afterwards.
DISC 2 gives us excellent PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED Piano Demos along with two separate BBC sessions - the "Dave Lee Travis Show" from April 1970 and the "Sounds Of The Seventies Show" from July 1970. They vary in sound quality, but are more than pleasantly good. Having said that, there are THREE genuine sensations on Disc 2. When Sting was asked to do a cover for the all-star "Two Rooms" compilation in 1991, he wisely chose "Come Down In Time", which for me has always been the best track on the album. Well track 3 on Disc 2 is a recently found PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED PIANO DEMO of "Come Down In Time" and it's sensationally good - just beautiful. Stripped of clutter and intruding instrumentation, the melody shines though, and luckily this is one of those demos that is in TIP-TOP STUDIO QUALITY CONDITION - very little hiss - just him and his lovely song. It's truly fantastic stuff and will remind many a weary fan of why they loved Elton John in the first place - he was a bloody good songwriter.
Second up is the near 9-minute "Original Version" of "Madman Across The Water" with MICK RONSON on Lead Guitar instead of Chris Spedding (Spedding was the guitar player on the shorter album version finally released on the "Madman Across The Water" album in October 1971). Along with the next track discussed, it turned up on the 1995 re-issue CD as a bonus track. What makes this version better is the UPGRADED REMASTER, which gives his raunchy guitar work an in-your-face clarity that pummels real axe-power into the song. Ronson, Bowie and Mott fans will absolutely love it!
Last is a rare B-side. Although "Tumbleweed" produced no singles at all, "Your Song" from the previous album "Elton John" was given a belated UK release in January 1971 with a unique non-album B-side, "Into the Old Man's Shoes". It first turned up on the 1995 Gus Dudgeon remaster with good sound - but here its upgraded sound quality is STUNNING!
To sum up: I've loved coming back to this album - the great sound quality - actual tunes with thought-provoking lyrics - the attention to detail in the well-thought out packaging - the bonuses you'll play more than once - all of it. And his 2nd self-titled album “Elton John” has received the lavish DE treatment too – and with the same high quality results.
Well done to all involved…and roll on “Honky Chateau” and “Madman Across The Water”…
on 23 August 2011
Great album. Not a real big fan of Elton since this period but Tumbleweed Connection is really marvellous great songs sung with real feeling. Hearing it again after a long time took me straight down that time tunnel to my earlier self.
on 13 May 2011
This is a complete one-off in the Elton John catalogue but easily the best thing he's ever done. Despite all the image and showmanship of the Elton we know, he has always had the talent to back it up and this album shows him and Bernie early in their career creating a near artwork before the arrival of superstardom and excess.
His earlier self-titled debut had shown great promise but suffered from overblown and bombastic arrangements. Everything was toned down for Tumbleweed and the more laid back approach allowed the melodies and lyrics to really shine through. On this record the orchestration underscores and lifts the music rather than drowning it. Whether it was originally wholly conceived as a suite of songs dedicated to the old West is doubtful but it is against that imaginative backdrop that the album works and allows each song to resonate with such haunting nostalgia and yearning. I think of it as a fond old scrapbook pulled down from a dusty attic, or a flickering reel of very early black and white film.
As suggested elsewhere, Elton is less the 'star' on this outing, and delivers a modest and nuanced reading of his own beautiful songs, aided by subtle and intelligent musicianship, and before he became bigger than the music. I don't think he's ever recorded anything more fragile and sensitive than Come Down in Time, or more evocative and stirring than My Father's Gun. Has he ever again captured the beautiful simplicity of Love Song with Lesley Duncan, or the yearning ache and loss of Amoreena ? The inclusion of Madman Across the Water on the CD releases of Tumbleweed suggest that it is the one that got away as it fits so well into the poetic landscape of the other material. Its drama and imagery, especially with the addition of Mick Ronson on this version conjures a mood, power and vision that Elton has only rarely matched and never again surpassed.
Why Tumbleweed Connection is never rated up there with Astral Weeks as one of the great picture-postcards of a time and place has always puzzled me and I wonder if it's because Elton chose a more commercial route (or it chose him) subsequent to this most personal and deeply affecting album of the boy from Pinner. He did rather well didn't he.
Most people inextricably link western music with country music - incorrectly, because although there is some overlap, they are two distinctive genres. This Elton John album provides a perfect illustration of that difference, being a western album recorded as rock music. Nevertheless, it seems that lyricist Bernie Taupin was deeply impressed by the classic Marty Robbins song El Paso, one of the few songs that merit's the country and western tag that I so despise. It apparently created Bernie's interest in the old American west, as well as inspiring him to become a songwriter, so it is easy to see why he wanted Elton to record an album like this.
This was only Elton John's third album, and only the second to make a significant impact at the time, although Empty sky eventually made the top ten in the American album charts in the mid-seventies. Recording an album based entirely on images of the old American west could be seen as brave or foolish, but it was certainly effective, both artistically and commercially. The only flaw (if there is one) is that the album yielded no hit singles either in Britain or America, but that didn't matter. The album went gold in America and did better in Britain than Elton's previous self-titled album that contained the huge international hit Your song.
Despite the absence of a hit single, the songs are of a consistently high quality. This may have something to do with Bernie's enthusiasm for the subject matter. None of these songs contain lyrics that are difficult or impossible to understand, as you'll occasionally find elsewhere. Songs with titles such as Country comfort, My father's gun, Ballad of a well-known gun, Talking old soldiers and Burn down the mission reinforce the album title and picture, showing clearly what this album is about. Yet the album contains one song, simply titled Love song, which Bernie didn't write and which could have been recorded for any of Elton's albums. It's also the one song that just might have become a hit, had it been released as a single. I first came across the song via a cover by Olivia Newton-John, but her version wasn't released as a single either.
On subsequent albums, Bernie still sometime wrote lyrics inspired by the old American west, particularly on Blue moves, but this is the album in which his enthusiasm is given full rein. Of course, it's not the only rock `n' western album out there. Desperado, the classic Eagles album, is another and may well have been inspired by Tumbleweed connection.
on 28 August 2013
Great digitally remastered cd with wonderful memories and great songs
In my opinion Elton Johns greatest work.
Listen and you will agree