Tumbleweed Connection: Elton John’s Most Rock Record?
To my liking, this is the most rock record that Elton John ever made. And it is his second album, after the good pop of his initiatory Elton John of 1969. In addition, Tumbleweed Connection (Factory Records, 1971) has a unique and enviable virtue: a single radio hit, a single song did not come off that could reach the always bad lists of popularity. However, none of the twelve pieces that constitute this recording can be considered as minor, as mere filling. On the contrary, they are all great – some more, others less – and make up a solid, sensitive work of great musical and lyrical heights by the composer duet conformed by Bernie Taupin and Elton John himself.
Recorded in Trident studios under the impeccable production of Gus Dudgeon, the album has as its conceptual common denominator the theme of the American Old West ; hence the graphic art of the album, with old allusive engravings and sepia printing that reminds us of the era and the western epicthat bequeathed not so much the true story but the films of John Ford or Raoul Walsh. Of course, in the lyrics of Taupin’s compositions there are references to outlaws, curators, spectacular landscapes, guns and burning missions. However, it is not a country music record, even if there are elements of it in the arrangements and in the musical structure of the songs. Only in the initial “Ballad of a Well-known Gun” Caleb Quaye participate in the extraordinary dotted guitar and in the choirs are Dusty Springfield, Lesley Duncan, Madeleine Bell and Tony Burrows. However, it is an essential and eminently rock and rock work and that must be emphasized.
“Lyrically and musically, Tumbleweed Connection is probably one of our most perfect albums,” Elton John once said. “I don’t think there’s a single song there whose melody doesn’t fit perfectly with the lyrics.” For his part, Bernie Taupin pointed out that “everyone thinks that on that record I was influenced by the songs of the West and they even believe that I knew that region of North America perfectly. However, we wrote and recorded the album without having first stepped on the territory of the United States. What I did do is that I was totally influenced by the album Music from the Big Pinkfrom The Band and by the compositions of Robbie Robertson. I have always loved the Old West and its classic films. I have always said that “El Paso” was the song that made me want to write lyrics, because it was the perfect combination between melody and narrative. When I heard it, I thought that there was something there that perfectly matched the musical rhythm with the written word. ”
“Come Down in Time”, the second track of the album, is one of its highest points. It is a jewel full of delicacy and subtle beauty, while “Country Comfort” is that: a piece that projects comfort and taste for life. “Son of Your Father” is a solid rock with a concise bill (Spooky Tooth made it a memorable version) that tells the story of two brothers almost cinematically, one of whom was blind and had a hook instead of a hand.
After the irresistible “My Father’s Gun” and “Where to Now St. Peter?” Appears the beautiful “Love Song” – the only one that was not composed by the binomial John-Taupin, but by Lesley Duncan – whose vocal harmonies and Acoustic guitar (played by Duncan himself) reminiscent of Crosby, Stills and Nash. “Amoreena”, meanwhile, is a love song in which he played for the first time what would be for many years the rhythm section of Elton John: Dee Murray on bass and Nigel Olsson on drums. As for “Talking Out Soldiers”, it is a dramatic song in which Elton John’s piano and voice are the only elements, more than enough to reflect the anguish of a letter full of melancholy phrases.
Tumbleweed Connection culminates at full speed with the majestic and almost gospeliana “Burn Down the Mission”, a whole hymn that has transcended in time and that has often served to close the concerts of the spectacular glasses. It’s a great ending, worthy of Elton John’s record masterpiece and his inseparable (well, not quite) Bernie Taupin.