Billy Joel: 12 Gardens Live
Madonna: I’m Going To Tell You A Secret
How many musical performers can you name that have been in show business for almost a quarter century, can still sell out a concert at top dollar, and do it in record time? There are only a handful, and one of them is the always changing, rearranging Madonna. Since the Michigan-born performer was first heard in the clubs, on the radio, seen on MTV, movie screens and became a household name in 1983, she has been racking up gold and platinum albums and selling out one venue after another with her extravaganzas that always push the envelope and are most definitely unique. Love her or hate her, there’s no gray area with Lady Madge and her mind-blowing catalogue of 36 #1 dance songs. And for the most part, this is what this CD is all about - the dance and as Madonna famously sings, “It’s called the dancefloor and here’s what it’s for.” Fourteen tracks comprise of this disc with radio and club hits including “Vogue,” “Like A Prayer,” a powerful version of “Susan MacLeod/Into The Groove,” the James Bond’s themed “Die Another Day,” the universal “Music,” the song that put her on the map, “Holiday,” and a smashing demo version of “I Love New York” from her latest studio album, Confessions On A Dancefloor. The biggest surprise for me was her incredibly moving version of the John Lennon staple “Imagine.” If you ever thought Madonna’s vocals could use some anti-freeze, this rendition that prays for hope, peace and love will thaw out any preconceived notions you may have ever carried about her. I’m not typically a fan of live albums, but every so often a performer comes along and surprises me with versions of their songs that sometimes leapfrog the originals. I’m not saying every single song on this disc does that, but for the most part, I listened to this CD and was pleasantly shocked. But isn’t that word synonymous with her Madge-estry anyway? The one thing that has always enhanced the sound of Madonna is the sight of Madonna. This is where the always thinking Marketability Girl comes in with a DVD companion of her live stage performances of ten songs. All the songs listed on the companion CD are here with the exception of two songs from “Confessions,” “Into The Groove” and “Die Another Day.” But don’t despair, the visuals are so incredible, she’ll make you forget there’s a record bin of songs that aren’t included. For that, I suggest you take a peek into her back catalogue and realize this is her best live performance on video since her “Blonde Ambition Tour” 15 years ago. Yes, Madonna is almost 48 years-old, but judging from this collection, she makes looking towards the future a bit brighter and not dreading your subscription offer from AARP.
Judy Garland: The Essential Judy Garland
What can be said about the magnificent talents of Judy Garland that hasn’t already been said? Not much. So if you’re wondering why this collection is a must (and not just for die-hard fans) it’s because it offers a slightly different collection of twenty songs, with two previously unreleased songs; “It Never Was You,” recorded in 1962 from the sessions for the film I Could Go On Singing, and a never-before-heard rendition of “Why Was I Born” recorded in London in the summer of 1960. Other tracks from her Capitol years that are rarely dispensed include a gorgeous version of the 1920’s ballad “If I Love Again,” “Life Is Like A Bowl Of Cherries” (ironic, isn’t it?), a stunning interpretation of “Comes Once In A Lifetime,” the Andre Previn gem “The Far Away Part Of Town,” and a 1958 recording of the song Judy auditioned for MGM with in the 30’s, “Zing! Went The Strings Of My Heart.” This CD also includes rarities such as “It Never Was You” recorded in 1962, “Lucky Day,” a superb take on one of the rarest “Hello Bluebird” written by a “friend,” and the sensational “April Showers.” Judy often said that Harold Arlen was her favorite songwriter, and this collection takes no exception to that fact by containing seven of his tunes, including her magnetic Carnegie Hall live recording of “The Man That Got Away” from 1961, “I Get The Blues When It Rains,” recorded in 1957, the crowd-pleasing “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” “Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home,” and “Happiness Is A Thing Called Joe,” recorded when her son Joey Luft was just five years old. The song that made her an international phenomenon, “Over The Rainbow” (also lifted from her April 23rd, 1961 legendary Carnegie Hall performance), appropriately closes out the disc. For fans who’d like to see rare photographs and read new liner notes written by her daughter Lorna Luft, just this past April. She recalls her memories of “Mama’s” years at Capitol and what they meant to her, as well as the world. Lorna summed it up beautifully by writing “I think that the ‘essential’ Judy Garland would take a huge box set, but here’s a sampling of some of the most essential work she ever did during her wonderful years at Capitol.” Whether you’re a Judy fan or just a fan of some of the finest penned songs sung with more heart and soul than anyone has a right, this collection entitled “Essential” is most certainly that.
Divine Goddesses: Music With A Twist Various Artists
Never have I uncovered such a wonderfully eclectic collection of Goddesses, unless I burned the disc myself. This compilation is subtitled “Music With A Twist” and that’s an understatement. This 69 track, three CD collection covers the conventional, the operatic and the land of disco and dance, with a few movie stars thrown in for good measure, who weren’t exactly known for their vocals. Can you say Davis, as in Bette?! Yes, the last time I was aware that Bette used her throat muscles for vocalizing was in the 1962 classic Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? when she sang her heart out for “Daddy.” No, that’s not the Davis tune that made this cut, but halfway through Disc One is a rare performance of her singing out “Turn Me Loose On Broadway.” Talk about camp. She’s sandwiched right between Edith Piaf’s masterpiece “Vie en Rose” and Doris Day’s delicious Oscar-winning “Secret Love.” The spectacular Shirley Bassey kicks the whole set off with “Never, Never, Never” and we travel down a who’s who of music and theatre from there. There are a couple of ditties from the original sex queen Mae West, who has a cut on Disc One and Three, with “I Like A Guy” and “I’m No Angel,” respectively. We then travel on “Downtown” with Petula Clark, while Billie Holiday offers up some “Strange Fruit.” Even Broadway legend Ethel Merman gets in on the act (how could you keep her out?) with her cover of Cole Porter’s “You’re The Top.” Leslie Gore makes an appearance with her liberated “You Don’t Own Me,” just before operatic diva Dame Joan Sutherland blows us away with “I Puritani: Son Vergin Vezzosa.” But that’s just before Rosemary Clooney’s “Lady Is A Tramp, Tallulah Bankhead’s “You Go To My Head” and Dionne Warwick’s magnificent song that put her on the map and the pop charts, “Don’t Make Me Over.” And that’s just some of the samplings from Disc One! The magnificent Judy Garland kicks off Disc Two with one of her signature songs, “The Man That Got Away,” and I’m telling you, that vocal on that song never gets old. Marlene Dietrich follows with “Give Me The Man,” while Connie Francis never sounded so great on one of our favorites “Where The Boys Are.” If there was ever a drag queen song, that’s one that would make the cut. Miss Dolly Parton’s stunning rendition of “Too Lonely Too Long” comes just before Julie London’s sensuous take on her signature “Cry Me A River.” And what would a collection of Goddesses be without an appearance by Madonna? Yes, we have the rarely heard “Dalida” just before Leontyne Price wows us with “Rondine: Chi il Bel Sogno di Doretta.” Diahann Carroll offers up one of her best with “I Never Has Seen Snow” just before Patsy Cline takes us “Walkin’ After Midnight.” Other tracks from Aretha, Hildegarde (remember the ice queen?) and Carmen Miranda round out the 24-track disc before Vicki Carr’s emotional “Ave Maria” and Patti Labelle’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone” closes the second act. Disc Three dances out of the gate with Anita Bell’s #1 one hit wonder “Ring My Bell,” while Gloria Gaynor keeps that disco ball rolling with the gay anthem of all gay anthems, “I Am What I Am.” Still feel like dancing? Blondie makes an appearance with “Heart of Glass” and the Three Degrees wonder “When Will I See You Again.” The underrated Candi Staton disco ditty “Young Hearts Run Free” thumps in as does Grace Jones’ “My Jamaican Guy.” Gladys Knight’s powerful rendition of “I’ve Got To Use My Imagination” comes halfway through the final act, but not before Marilyn Monroe’s showstopper “Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend” shines bright. Eartha Kitt purrrrs up with “I Want To Be Evil” and “Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall In Love).” Next we hear Tina Turner, Sister Sledge, and the exquisite Etta James. To say that this is a collection for all may not be true. If you enjoy great music from some of the finest voices of the 20th century (and who doesn’t?), you can’t go wrong with this collection. I wish I could give you a review of every single track, but I’m afraid it would bleed over into my next two columns. How appropriate that this set contains 69 tracks. They really know their audience, don’t they?
Linda Ronstadt/Ann Savoy: Adieu False Heart
I have been a fan of Linda Ronstadt’s ever since I heard her first radio hit, “Different Drum” in 1967. What hooked me was the emotionally charged 1970 hit “Long, Long Time.” For that recorded performance, Miss Ronstadt received her first of nearly 30 Grammy nominations with 11 wins to date. After hearing this new collection with Cajun singer Ann Savoy (Pronounced Sa-Vwah) it’s almost easy to predict an even dozen for this multi-dimensional vocalist. Just when you thought she has covered every genre of music from country to bluegrass, rock, pop, Mexican, and opera, she conquers another musical field that most mainstream artists wouldn’t dare go near. Not because the sound of this album isn’t delightful, it’s just not accessible unless you have a gift as grand as Ronstadt’s. If you’ve ever heard Ronstadt perform with the extraordinarily gifted Emmylou Harris, this album may be a reminder of how well she harmonizes and blends with the best of them. For those who aren’t familiar with Savoy’s vocals, you will be pleasantly pleased with the understating warmth and beauty of her voice. This only enriches Ronstadt’s vocal abilities and allows her to soften the belt a notch that is so familiar and allow her to do some of the best singing of her career. This is most apparent on the track “Go Away From My Window” when Ronstadt channels her soprano muscles and the results are superb. For those who are wary and not sure you’re in a Cajun mood, I assure you, this is not a Cajun style album. As a matter of fact, of the sixteen tracks, only two fit that genre and it sounds as if this duo has been harmonizing together longer than the few weeks it took to record these tracks. Their vocals are simply exquisite. The other tracks include an amazing cover of the 1960’s pop hit, “Walk Away Renee” that has been slowed down and sung with such passion, their version harks back for the longing heartbreak of the original, but the mood is darker and the harmonies brought chills to my body and tears to my eyes. Most of the album is a shared effort but Ronstadt does take the lead on such highlights as “I Can’t Get Over You” and “King of Bohemia” while Savoy takes the reins on “Marie Mouri,” “Burn’s Supper,” the title track and a magnificent take on “The One I Love Is Gone.” If you’re in the mood to just chill and absorb some of the most luscious vocals ever set down on wax, pick up this magnificent collection. It may be titled Adieu False Heart, but there’s nothing false about the contents, it has plenty of heart, and I assure you, you won’t ever want to bid it adieu.
Valley Of The Dolls: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
I’d say the sensational theme song written by Andre and Dory Previn, and sung exquisitely by Dionne Warwick, was reason enough to purchase this CD, but chances are, you already own it on a Warwick collection. The real reason to buy this CD is not just for the memories it will bring of Patty Duke’s Neely O’Hara practicing for her big Broadway break, until Susan Hayward’s Helen Lawson realizes that the girl’s just a bit too much competition and hands her her walking papers. But not until Neely leaves “the stinking show” all by herself, “with dignity.” Of course the song is “Give A Little More” and Duke belts it right out of the park. Some may have forgotten that Little Miss Duke was a pop singer in the mid 60’s with a Top 10 single of her own, “Don’t Just Stand There.” I realize it was standard to take the popular teen of the day and turn them into a pop star, but Duke really had the chops. It’s also evident on her other number (when her necklace gave a “cross-your-heart-bra” new meaning). I’m speaking of course of the up-tempo and enjoyable (yes, I admit it!) “It’s Impossible.” In between the filler music that’s actually pretty good, written by John Williams and the Previns, there are two other songs that stand out; the night-club-song of night-club-songs “Come Live With Me” and the showstopper that Helen Lawson delivers with the aid of Margaret Whiting’s vocals, the puzzling-but-still-bewitching “I’ll Plant My Own Tree.” As I said, the visuals really do add the proper momentum to these songs, but I dare you to turn it off they’re that infectious. This CD is guaranteed to please your guests when you’re having them over for “booze,” and I assure you, you’ll end up listening to it all by yourself, but hopefully not in some dark alley wondering where everyone has gone. The songs from Valley Of The Dolls are the ultimate guilty pleasure that’ll get you “hooked.” If the wonderful fair notes from the throat of Neely O’Hara keep you up at night just take a red doll…with liquor…”They work faster!”
Masterbeat S.P.F. 2006 DJ Brett Henrichsen
We know him, we love him, we love his looks, we love his charm, but mostly, we love his talent as one of the most entertaining and skillful DJ’s that’s spinning our favorite tunes of today. Of course, I’m speaking of Brett Henrichsen, who is one of the most in-demand DJ’s on the circuit. If he’s not in the booth spinning live, he’s touring and turning out one of his superb CD compilations. His latest double CD collection, S.P.F. 2006 (which stands for “Summer Party Favorites”) is no exception. He kicks off Disc One with the splendid Chris Cox Club Mix of Persephone’s Bees “Nice Day” and seamlessly segues the ten songs on each disc as we dance and sing to the phenomenal selection he has chosen for this set. I usually highlight my favorite songs and favorite mixes, but this collection doesn’t miss a beat. The entire two-disc set is one giant highlight that includes Leela James’ “Music” (Eddie’s Bring It Back Mix); the smashing Chus & Ceballos Mix of Deux’s “Sun Rising Up; Claudja Barry’s “I Will Stand (Tony Moran & Rigg Club Mix); and “act one” closes with the Stefano Sorrentino Club Mix “Got To Believe,” performed by Pulse 81 featuring Marijana. Jump-starting Disc Two (or “act two” as I like to call it) is Meleni Smith’s “Meet Me In The Bathroom (L.E.X. Bathroom Vox Mix) which melds beautifully into the luscious vocals of Inaya Day & China Ro performing “Movin’ Up. Other dancing jewels that take over the second hour include Goldfrapp’s smash “Ooh La La (Peter Rauhofer Reconstruction); Da Hool on the Antoine Clamaran Mix “Meet Her At The Love Parade” and closes with the sensational Rosabel singing out proud on “Rhythm Intoxication” (Alegria Peak Mix). One listen to this two hour-plus odyssey will make you understand why this compilation is a must for your dance collection. Masterbeat tion never felt (or sounded) so good.
Gay Sex in the 70’s: Original Soundtrack from the Documentary
I’ve always been a fan of nostalgia especially 70’s nostalgia. Obviously I’m not alone. Between the VH-1 airings of I Love The 70’s (which is now airing Part 2 of the series), the success of the long-running FOX television series That 70’s Show, and the movies that cash in on that decade, from the box office success of two films spawned from the 70’s mega-hit Charlie’s Angels to The Dukes Of Hazzard (okay, not everything was a winner), it seems that decade is forever a favorite. If you were a gay man in the 70’s, you probably recall it as one of the most carefree and experimental decades of sex. All it took was a look and you were hooked. The documentary film Gay Sex in the 70’s was a reminder of just how carefree it was. And the music was no exception. It was a celebration of the gay community’s long overdue freedom from the uptight and closeted world we were forced to live in until all hell broke loose in Greenwich Village on that warm June night in 1969. Without those brave gay men, where would we be today? The film represents a celebration just as this accompanying soundtrack does. And its release on West End Records, which distributed the best gay disco anthems of the 70’s, is absolutely fitting. 70’s diva Taana Gardner dominates this collection with four tracks that include “No Frills,” “Paradise Express,” “Work That Body” and the seven minute-plus version of “When You Touch Me.” The in-your-face promiscuous anthems were prevalent, but some never quite as blatant as the sexually charged “Is It All Over My Face?” by Loose Joints, or the mesmerizing Colleen Heather performing her “Magic.” All in all, there are 13 tracks that’ll take you back and put a smile on your face in a way that you haven’t smiled since you walked out of a New York City club at 6AM. If you’d like to experience what it sounded like all those years ago, pick up this CD. If you missed the film or would like to see it again, it is now available on DVD. This is a great way to see and hear what once was and why the dance music of today never would’ve existed without the dance music of yesterday. This compilation is almost as satisfying as gay sex was in the 70’s. Closing out the set is Carl Bean’s anthem “I Was Born This Way” which always got the dancefloor filled to maximum capacity and then some. Now that’s what I call a climax!
Gay Games VII: Chicago 2006 Let The Games Begin
A couple of months ago I reviewed Gay Games: Chicago 2006, the wonderful CD compilation which was the first set of music inspired by the games. I’m happy to report that Volume 2 (as I like to call it) is now available, and the selection of tracks are as inspiring as the event itself. The games closed less than a month ago, but the music in this collection reminds us how important and far we as a community have come. We have a lot more to say and a lot more to do, but this set of tracks is a reminder of the joy and pain of the sensational event last month. The CD opens with the more than appropriate international smash hit “Proud” with Heather Small on vocals. The artist with some of the most positive songs embraced by the gay community (not to mention killer hooks and looks) is the sensational Kristine W with her monster dance hit “I’ll Be Your Light.” A touch of Broadway is most welcomed, especially since it’s the cast of Avenue Q performing “If You Were Gay.” Mainstream gay and gay-friendly artists such as Jimmy Somerville, Billy Porter, Ari Gold, the duo Jason & deMarco, Ultra Nate Jody Watley and several others complete this disc and make this compilation a winner, just as the athletes did themselves. Speaking of winners, Kevin Aviance, who is on the mend but on his way back to being as fabulous as ever, offers his track “Freak It (Live Out Loud).” Fourteen tracks encompass Volume 2, and if you need a lift or just want to feel great about who you are and what you represent, this collection will warm your heart and send your spirit soaring. The closer “High,” performed by Lighthouse, is exactly how you’ll feel when listening to this disc. If you are unable to make it to Virgin Megastore or Tower Records, you can log on to www.gaygameschicago.org and www.centaurmusic.com to purchase this compilation.
Christina Aguilera: Back to Basics
Christina Aguilera latest release is her third studio album entitled Back to Basics. It’s a double disc collection of music that reflects on the old school recordings of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Etta James, and many other extraordinary vocalists of days gone by. The only difference is that Christina didn’t record their material, she recorded all original songs, even co-penning all 22 tracks, executive producing and, of course, headlining each song as if her life depended on it. This is not just an album release of nearly two dozen tracks thrown together this is a concept album, or as I like to call it, an event album. It has all the ingredients of the 1920’s -1940’s sound “with a modern twist,” as Aguilera points out, “to keep it sounding fresh.”
The first single “Ain’t No Other Man,” produced by DJ Premier, has already rocketed up into the Top 10, and it’s unlike anything this former dirrty girl has ever released. The one thing that has remained constant is her impeccable vocal range. If I dare say it, Ms. Aguilera sounds better than I’ve ever heard her, and this material shows off her versatility like nothing she’s ever done before. And it ain’t just studio trickery. This girl is the real deal. Her live broadcast performance of her latest hit single on David Letterman’s Late Show, the day after the CD’s release, was so astounding that it even took ol’ Dave back. He commented to Christina, “We have people on here virtually every night performing, but this was really a standout performance,” to which the audience most enthusiastically showed their appreciation. It takes a lot to win Dave over, but even I sat there with my mouth agape. This girl was on fire! The comparisons to her former rival Britney Spears are long behind her and this album should add a few more trophies to her three Grammy’s, along with her countless other accolades.
Disc 1 was put into the more than capable hands of DJ Premier and is comprised mostly of upbeat material that contains a lot of synthesized drum beats while never straying from the old school sound. It’s one of the best and most interesting blends to be set down on wax. Kicking off this “concept” album is the first track “Intro (Back To Basics),” with opening lyrics by various male voices that sound as if they came straight off the radio from 1935 “A very pleasant good evening ladies and gentlemen/ It is now time for the one and only/ There will never be another/ Christina Aguilera.” It’s an introduction that’s very reminiscent of the way The Beatles’ greatest concept album “Sgt. Pepper’s” had begun. Christina’s vocal enters and lays out the very concept of this double disc set by paying tribute to all the greats that came before her. She sings “That’s how music should sound/ I’ve waited for some time to get inside the minds of every legend I’ve ever wanted to stand beside.” It’s a beautiful and brave way to begin the journey. Any lesser singer would’ve had people scoffing ‘Who is she kidding?!’ While it’s actually appropriate at this time in Aguilera’s career, at 25 she feels confident enough to include herself in such brilliant company as some of the pop and jazz greats she listened to growing up in Pennsylvania. Christina has said “this is the type of material I gravitated towards” when I was growing up.” She is also in great company, present day, on this extravaganza. She was joined by the legendary Steve Winwood on Track 2, “Makes Me Wanna Pray,” with Steve’s signature sound all over the track channeling and sampling his great song “Glad” that he performed with his band Traffic, back in the day. All of the tracks on Disc 1 are exceptional, but the real standouts include “Oh Mother,” a tribute to her own mother and the abuse she had taken for years from her husband (Christina’s dad), ultimately fleeing with her two daughters, Christina and her younger sister Rachel. “Back in the Day” is a sensational musical tribute to Christina’s musical heroes that inspired this album. Closing out Disc 1 is a shout out to all of Christina’s fans, while the track plays authentic taped messages that were left by them, all the while sampling the song that became her first #1, “Genie In A Bottle.” Christina and Premier’s ingenious pairing on this disc would’ve been enough for a five-star rating, but just when you’re ready to play it all over again, there’s another disc to be heard.
Disc 2 has Christina pairing up with her “Beautiful” co-songwriter/producer Linda Perry, and if I tell you that this is the best work I’ve ever heard from a contemporary vocalist of today, you better believe me! Most artists would’ve left well enough alone, and Disc 1 by itself would have been a smash while she could’ve held off a year and released Disc 2 on its own. But somehow, someway, this album wouldn’t have been the “event” that it is without these additional 9 tracks. If you’re a fan of the song “Beautiful,” which speaks bold and proud for anybody and everything that’s outside “the norm,” then you’re gonna love this ballad-heavy disc.
Maybe I’m biased, but as brilliant as Disc 1 is, I’m a sucker for power ballads and great vocalizing. This is apparent throughout Disc 2, with the exception of track 3, “Candyman,” which is a throwback to The Andrew Sisters’ best, and a constant reminder that Bette Midler did this type of material over thirty years ago on her first two albums. But somehow Christina still manages to make it her own with the spectacular multi-layered tracks and killer vocals. It’s also the soon-to-be-released-to-radio second single. There’s a lot of chutzpah in this portion of the album, most especially on track 8, “Hurt,” which is some of the best singing I have ever heard…ever. It’s a surefire hit and should most definitely be on the schedule for a radio release. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear this track as the third single when radio begs for more. It has #1 written all over it.
Christina’s husband of nearly 10 months was the inspiration for the wonderfully executed and beautifully written valentine “Save Me From Myself,” with such heartfelt lyrics as “My love is tainted by your touch/ Well some guys have shown me aces/ But you’ve got that royal flush/ I know it’s crazy everyday/ Well tomorrow may be shaky/ But you never turn away.” And the album closes with the painful yet optimistic reality of her abusive father, and her new found love with her husband, Jordan. Christina’s voice sings out “Thoughts racing fast through my mind/ As I’m going down the aisle/ That my future will mend my memories/ Torn between father and child/ My emotions overload/ Cause there is no hand to hold/ There’s no shoulder here to lean on/ I’m walking all on my own/ Here I go…”
It’s interesting, because for “Back to Basics” Christina has taken firm hold of the reins cast right from the mold of Madonna. From conceptualizing to writing and executive producing, this is THE album that’s sure to hand the crown over to Aguilera. One major factor that Christina has over Lady Madonna is THAT voice. While Madonna is brilliant at marketing herself as the ultimate showgirl and entrepreneur, Christina is proving to have all of that and just a bit more.
Christina Aguilera made a name for herself at the top of the charts seven short years ago with “Genie in a Bottle” and “What A Girl Wants.” A couple of years later she got beautifully “Dirrty” and showed the world her edgier side, which gained her an even larger fanbase. Now she’s come “Back to Basics” with her third official studio release and to say she’s conquered the pop music world this time around wouldn’t even do her justice. She’s still our “Genie” and I’m happy to report we got our third wish.
Elton John: The Captain And The Kid
On September 12th, Elton and his longtime musical partner Bernie Taupin released the highly anticipated sequel to Elton’s 1975 masterpiece Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy, appropriately titled The Captain And The Kid. The album is a throwback to his early recordings (which I consider his finest) from the early to mid 70’s. Just for the record, the 1975 landmark album “Captain Fantastic” was the very first album to debut at #1, and five months later it was followed by Elton’s Rock Of The Westies which was the second album in history to top the charts in its debut week. Elton has been the most consistent male recording artist of the music industry for the past four decades.
The first single, “The Bridge,” has already made history as Elton’s 66th charted Adult Contemporary single in Billboard, which is more than any other artist. He’s just ahead of Barbra Streisand, who owns 64 charted singles. Elton is also tied with The Carpenters with 15 #1 singles on the AC charts. “The Bridge” debuted at a respectful #29 and returned him to the sound that made him famous with the debut of “Your Song” in December 1970. “The Bridge” is destined for the Top 10, and is so good I wouldn’t be surprised to see it at the top of the totem pole.
The entire album finds John in familiar territory, as this album could’ve easily been released in the 70’s and that’s a good thing! Elton scored his greatest success not only chart-wise but critically with his early material. The fact that he didn’t feel the need to give this album an updated sound adds more credibility to Elton the artist and to the quality of this album. Who says you need synthesizers and a heavy bassline nowadays to have something worth your fifteen bucks? The fact that this album boldly picks up where “Captain Fantastic” left off, and sounds as if it was the immediate follow-up, is not only brilliant, it’s sheer heaven to my ears.
The opening track, “Postcards From Richard Nixon,” has the familiar piano introduction, the profound Taupin lyrics and gorgeous harmonies that put Elton on the map all those years ago. Track 2, “Just Like Noah’s Ark,” has the same honky tonk piano feel of his 1972 album, Honky Chateau, that contains some of the best mid-tempo rocking this man has accomplished in over a decade.
With close to 50 albums to his name, it’s hard not to compare this material to his best, and believe me, this is his best since his mid 90’s outing Made In England. Comparisons were definitely hard to escape on the track “Wouldn’t Have You Any Other Way (NYC),” which is so reminiscent of his splendid composition “Levon,” that I had to play it twice before moving on. “And The House Fell Down” is another track that starts off nostalgically and builds to a piano tempo that runs parallel with the 1972 jump of “I Think I’m Gonna Kill Myself” to the 80’s staple beat of “I’m Still Standing.” Halfway through the album finds the ballad “Blues Never Fade Away” that could’ve easily been lifted from his earliest recordings. I relished listening to tracks such as “Tinderbox,” “I Must Have Lost It On The Wind” and “Old 67” because they all brought me back to John’s glory days. The title track, which is also the closer, is an homage to himself, referencing his past recordings such as “Tumbleweed Connection,” his “Rocket Man” status, the brilliance of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “Rock Of The Westies” and of course, the prequel “Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy.” The track is most fitting considering the life Elton has led and the music he has delivered for almost 40 years.
If you have ever been a fan of Elton’s early years or even his later work, you cannot go wrong with this CD. There’s not a bad song in the bunch. John has attempted to go back to his “roots” several times in the past few years with albums such as 2001’s Songs From The West Coast and 2004’s Peachtree Road, but as good as some of the tracks were, the albums lacked cohesiveness. In the past decade, Elton’s concentration on his Broadway and London musicals may have distracted him from making the kind of full album that made his music so consistently rich to begin with. This time around the marriage of Elton’s music and Taupin’s lyrics has returned Sir Elton to the royal kingdom that started it all when he chanted “I hope you don’t mind, I hope you don’t mind” all those years ago. No, Elton, when it’s this good, we don’t mind at all.
These CD Reviews first appeared in the BottomLine Magazine in Palm Springs, CA.
© 2006 Steven M. Housman. All Rights Reserved.