It has taken Elton John till the age of 63 and countless gold albums, gongs and medals for services rendered to finally realise that he no longer has to make the kind of albums his record company wants him to make.
Elton John and Leon Russell: The Union
70s idols unite with gospel choir and vintage licks.
So Elton has returned to his roots and begun the process of making ‘age appropriate’ music – a decision also reached recently by Tom Jones who simultaneously stopped dying his hair (a sacrifice the artist previously known as Reg may find a little more tricky).
To this end he has reunited with forgotten musical legend Leon Russell – whom he toured America with back in the hazy early 70s – under the guidance of producer T Bone Burnett. The result is a collaboration – Bernie Taupin co-wrote with all three – that wipes clean the past 40 years and tips us back to a period when singer-songwriters came with pianos rather than guitars.
The magnificent Eight Hundred Dollar Shoes sounds like it could have come straight off Tumbleweed Connection – back from the days when Elton fancied himself as something of a folk troubadour – but the rest of the album sounds closer to Russell’s ancient solo back catalogue of frazzled boogie, blues and gospel.
There’s plenty of duelling boogie pianos but the finest tracks are the saddest – Best Part Of The Day, There’s No Tomorrow and Never Too Old (To Hold Somebody) finding John’s toned down vocals brilliantly matching Russell’s grizzled rumble. Better still is when Neil Young joins the show on sorrowful war ballad Gone To Shiloh. More misery and this album could have been a classic, as it is it’s an extraordinary detour.