Saturday, 5 March 2016

"Tumbleweed Connection" by ELTON JOHN (2008 Universal/Mercury 2CD 'Deluxe Edition' Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"…Ballad Of A Well-Known Gun…"

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 of "Tumbleweed Connection" by ELTON JOHN on Universal/Mercury 06007 53052556 (Barcode 600753052556) 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 “Tumbleweed Connection” 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 that 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 repressing 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 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...

PS: see also my review for the DELUXE EDITION of "Elton John" 
and the 2004 SACD/Surround Sound variants of "Madman Across The Water" and "Honky Chateau" as well as the 2014 Bob Ludwig Remaster of "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road"

This review is part of my SOUNDS GOOD Music Book Series. One of those titles is CLASSIC 1970s ROCK - an E-Book with over 260 entries and 2450 e-Pages - purchase on Amazon and search any artist or song (click the link below). Huge amounts of info taken directly from the discs (no cut and paste crap). 

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