10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: The Union (Audio CD)
This album is giving me more pleasure than any Elton album since the mid 70s. Recorded live, it's a soulful blend of gospel, blues, country and pop. It fits together beautifully, helped by T Bone Burnett's production with horns and female backing vocals adding colour.
The opener If It Wasn't for Bad is a feelgood upbeat catchy number, one of 4 written by Leon Russell without Elton, with romping pianos to the fore. The ballad Eight Hundred Dollar Shoes i find graceful and gently endearing. Hey Ahab is a highlight, Elton's strongest rocking track for ages, that reminded me of Billy Bones on the Rock of the Westies album. I could almost smell the sea and hear the crash of great waves and the whale. Gone to Shiloh is a masterpiece, one of my favourites in Elton's whole catalogue, a civil war song that would have suited early albums like Tumbleweed Connection. It's taken to to a higher level by Neil Young's beautiful middle verse, his voice sounding young and fresh as its April rain. Jimmy Rodgers' Dream has a pleasant country lilt, again reminiscent of Elton's classic early years. There's no Tomorrow may have a dirge-like tempo but also a rich dark mood with deep roots to be savoured and, co-written by The Mighty Hannibal, brought to mind a swaying New Orleans funeral march.
Monkey Suit is a rocker lifted well above recent Elton upbeat numbers when the brass section kicks in. Best Part of the Day is a ballad with moments that send tingles down my spine, while underlining the sense of togetherness. A Dream Come True has a cheerful infectious foot-tapping jingle, followed by When Love is Dying which at first seemed a bit inflated for the strength of its repeated chorus, but has grown on me. Next up, another song i treasure, I Should've Sent Roses, by Leon and Elton's lyricist Bernie Taupin, with a bittersweet yet somehow warm enveloping mood. I like Hearts Have Turned to Stone too for its spirited backing vocals and groovy horns, along with Leon's engaging earthiness. You're Never Too Old is a slow ballad i was doubtful of but coming to appreciate thanks to some fine piano touches. And then a lovely finish In the Hands of Angels, by Leon, a song as gift of thanks to Elton, all the more touching for Leon's being revitalised after ill health and an operation.
Great credit to Leon Russell for his part in Elton's best in decades, finally worthy of his 70s heyday, and rightly given 5 stars in Rolling Stone, along with many other critical raves. I've fallen in love with it. Elton sang at the end of the Captain Fantastic album, "there's treasure children always seek to find"; well, after all these years, here's treasure enough for me.
DELUXE VERSION: MUSICAL REWARD, BEWARE DVD. It is certainly not worth paying extra for the very short- 6 minute!- dvd on the making of the album. I bought the deluxe all the same on the strength of one of the 2 additional tracks (integrated near the end of a slightly changed order); the gorgeous velvety Mandalay Again, an astonishingly good song to be left off the main album. The upbeat My Kind of Hell does the album's standard no harm either, so i've been delighted to have a magnificent 16 rather than 14 track album. Maybe best to check out the extra tracks if you can before buying.