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9 Feb 2016

The Master Class Series (III): "Elton is showing that he is the mother of invention" by Claude Bernardin

Claude Bernardin attended Great Valley High School and learned his most serious profession there, studying as a young artist under Chester County Watercolorist Lawrence H. Kuzmin. His first major Professional Painting exhibition in 1986, was in Gramercy Park, Manhattan, NY at the Salmagundi Art Club, upon invitation after receiving the President’s Award for his watercolor, “Work Bench”. Claude has had a successful painting career ever since. And has been a High School Art Instructor, on the High School level in the Philadelphian Archdiocese. He teaches Painting, drawing, graphics, photography, film, Pop Culture, The History Of Pop Music, Art History and much more.

After forty plus years of open-heart surgery through his music and Bernie Taupin’s words and stories, Elton John is finally able to put his past behind him, and move forward. The album, if nothing, is certainly a departure, and it is in the energetic album’s center piece, “Claw Hammer”, John sings openly,

“You're gonna need a claw hammer
Oh my Lord
To bust on through
And break down your walls
Loosen your lips
Slacken that jaw
Waiting for you to share with us
The myth behind the lies
Come on out
Throw us a bone

We want to know your intentions
Are you fake
For goodness sake
Or the Mother of Invention..?”

In the song's words, Taupin seems to be teasing with the fans, yet musically, John and the band deliver the album’s musical masterpiece. Here, perhaps, Elton John is showing that he is the mother of invention.  It is not so much that it is new ground, as it is a restructuring, and a new path. Here the band, and singer, have forged a new road. Yes, the ending has tinges of Steely Dan, yes the ending harkens to the most recent jazz-tinged, live concert performances of “Madman Across The Water." Yes one can hear all of that, but, don’t be fooled or dismissive, here….IT WORKS! 

This album is not unlike any John has produced, it has it's incredible highs, and it has it’s incredible lows.

A few issues off the bat:

1. There is NO PLACE in Rock-N-Roll for the theatrical vocals that appear on this album, in such tracks as “Claw Hammer”, “Blue Wonderful”, and “Free and Easy”. They can border on “icky cute”. Does that really work in rock?
2. Vocally, it is not his best album, nor is it even close. It sounds more like a walk in the park. One wonders, was this why his voice appears to be so lowly mixed down, and seems to hide behind the band?
3. The piano is clearly taking a back seat. Bands tend to be great excuses for the likes of McCartney and John, to hide behind. I’d have most certainly turned that up in the mix!
4. T. Bone Burnett, and guitarist Johnstone are not a good judge of song quality, apparently.
5. I am hopeful that T. Bone Burnett is now done for a time. We need a new honest hand in the studio.

As much as one would like to dismiss all of Elton John’s prior music catalog, it cannot, nor should it ever, be dismissed, even when writing a review. Is this album as good as Madman, or Rock Of The Westies? No! It’s different. Is it as good as Captain? Honky? Yellow Brick? No, and no amount of hype from anyone, including Rolling Stone Magazine, will make one decide that.

One comes to conclusions based on many things.
Fans like much of what John produces, that is acceptable, and it is why we call them “fans”. I am a “fan”, but I have always remained on the cusp edge, of reality. I listen to many, forms of music. I do not cast stones at others. I merely speak from my own experiences.  I like what I like, I don’t like, what I don’t like. I am a huge fan of John Mellencamp. I loved his Human Wheels and Mr. Happy Go Lucky, albums. I loved his “Rain On The Scarecrow”. What I have not loved is all his recent work with Producer T. Bone Burnett. It falls short,  ALL of it. Tuneless, drivel, bad range vocals, muddy instrumentation. Dreary lyrics.

So why mention this? Is there a connection? Yes, his name is T. Bone. I was proud of his work in the studio on the last two albums for Elton John, but even I was starting to hear muddiness, and poor decisions being made. To Produce, one should have a clear handle on the “sound” of their songwriter, the “style” of their songwriter. T Bone’s productions of the like for almost everyone he touches, seems to be like a road map, lacking any direction, and all over the place.  I am left unclear, and unsatisfied. I think it is time now for a new producer. That is all I will say further.

Clarification now on style and sound:
What does one expect of a new Elton John album these days? Nothing? Or do you harken back to olden times, to the likes of Tumbleweed or Madman, Honky Chateau, or do you want and desire a more sharp dressed, snappier 1980’s sound? Or is it possible to bridge all of this in one album? Elton’s career is a puzzler. There is the 1970’s Elton with strings and anger, there is the pop mid-1970’s Elton, there is the colder, pop savvy Elton of the 1983 era, Too Low For Zero period. There is the 1990’s Lion King "Can You Feel The Love Tonight" Elton. There is the 2001, Songs From The West Coast Elton, there is the theatre, Aida, Billy Elliot, Lestat Elton. Now that last one should not touch the “sound/or style” of the rocker Elton. EVER!  And, unfortunately, here on this disc, it has. That “sound” is not a very pleasing, nor believable by the same man who is on stage screaming at me about "he shall be Levon!” and “burning down missions!" It is a perplexing thing.

Back to our song spotlight:
In “Claw Hammer”, the album's center piece, the song begins with Elton’s Lestat, theatre voice….and I almost found it a turn off immediately. Not believable in the least. How does a rocker sing like he’s on stage in a high school drama play? It, thankfully, is saved by it's chorus and it’s wonderful, (oops new word…needed from the thesaurus quickly) its fantastic instrumental jams, thus, becoming a “fantastic” track, and eventually rising above this album as a stand out.

It is in-fact, a new direction, musically, and not in the theatre sense of the term.
Now for the songs in exact order:

Wonderful Crazy Night:
As title cuts go, the second weakest title cut ever recorded for an album by John, only comparison, here is “Leather Jackets” from 1986. It’s a better album cut, but lacking any uplifting female singers, any changes melodically. The song suffers greatly. Instrumentally, it’s got me, and my toe continues to tap, but I just can’t get around the melody. Piano great, Davey’s guitar work great, but where’s the tune? He is a Tunesmith right? Guy who wrote such glittery melodies as “Island Girl” and “Im Still Standing”?, The tune…It never alters, and as rockers go, in his arsenal of “GREAT” rockers, it can’t touch “Saturday” or “Love Lies”, so it leaves me perplexed. I think if he had had a vocalist singing a higher part over his lower register it would have worked. To me, it’s a “whole lotta mumbling goin on!”
It’s an ok B side, not a strong album cut, sorry.
Lyrically not bad, but Taupin has written stronger.
Good to hear him loosening up, but the song leaves me wanting way too much.
Grade: B/B-

In The Name Of You:
“Take a hold…here! Hold On!” Classic Elton returns! Riff is wonderfully catchy, guitar is gritty, and suddenly we are sailing back to 1972 Honky Chateau. The world is in check totally. THIS is Elton John! T. Bone gets an award! Davey Johnstone gets an award! Elton deserves the best. Lyrically it’s ok, not Taupin's best, but man, does Elton kill it!  This should have been the Lead single!
It would have been nice if he’d have played with his snarly old bitchy vocally self a bit, but yes the song soars! A breath of fresh air, lacking on The Diving Board and even The Union. Nothing more I can say here, it keeps me smiling.
It’s not “Wake Up Wendy” but I’m not doing that game. I love “IT”, this song. This song is great! And thank God the Angels woke up the old Elton, who arrives at the end vocally….NOW THAT’S ELTON! And Um, T. Bone TURN THAT UP! Ya dummy!
Ohhh yeah! OH Yeah!!!
Grade : A

Claw Hammer:
From the opening instrumentation from Ray Cooper, I’m hooked. He almost loses me with the Lestat voice, but I’m sticking with it, I’m there. Okay this is just "Oscar Wilde" Part Two…..I’m in it.
CHORUS! OH MY LORD! You saved it! It’s killer! It’s modern “Madman” but it’s somehow its equal! Dude! How do you do it?! You just reinvented yourself musically again?!Amazing, so refreshing. Thank you to all who got this done.
Mr. Johnstone you soar on this track. And it is refreshing!
Kim Bullard's Steely Dan twist is perfect, but I also love how Elton brings in the live Madman segues…it’s just a great track. A Classic, brilliant, and should be the WHOLE direction on the next album. Superb!
Grade: A+

Blue Wonderful:
Ok. Video is dreadful, that’s out of the way, Umm the theatre voice? Seriously?
Am I to take this seriously? It’s dripping icky sweet.
Yes, it reflects Peach Tree Road, but, you’ve crossed into something I just am struggling with.
NO! I can’t do it. No matter how many times you tell me …”wonderful”.
Nope, This is NOT YOUR STYLE!
It doesn’t work for you.
Out of your element totally. Davey is trying hard to salvage it, so is T. Bone, but no.
Um, not "Tiny Dancer", not "Harmony", not "Mona", not "Sacrifice", not "Blue Avenue", not "One More Arrow". Too theatre for me. Sorry.
Grade: C+

I’ve Got 2 Wings:
Took me four listens to get around this track. Lyrically it is BRILLIANT! One of Taupin’s best lyrics EVER!
At first I thought, no, no, you did not deliver the goods here, Elton. But I get it, you are working in that country folk, story tellers thing…and it is lovely. The guitar part in the back ground and the humming make it lovely.
It’s early for me, but I know it will be a treasured track for me in the future.
I love the style. YES style is here.
Grade:  B+

A Good Heart :
OH MY! He didn’t just play that?! 1974 Elton is back?!
Vocally superb, opening verse outstanding. Instrumentally behind him dark, lovely.
Classic Nigel! Chorus! AH!
Old Elton is back and in perfect form!
Classic Elton John here. I am perplexed at how Elton could see this much melody in such an average lyric. Wow! It’s that thing that ONLY Elton does. "Whoo OH." Classic Davey guitar work! Classic Elton vocals.
Piano back, YES! He could do that damn thing all day long!
Fantastic synth backing!
The horn arrangement is superb, and refreshing!
Ending is just lovely!
Ok Davey , I give you your Grade of A, good show at end.
Grade: A+

Looking Up:
Catchy as hell opening piano work! It’s classic pop Elton. It will probably not always remain this high on my list, I can see it getting tiresome. Davey does everything he can to get it to shake off its pop sensibilities. It’s a fun track, my toe is tapping constantly.
Sounds very radio single oriented.
Not a bad track.
Grade :  B+/A-

Guilty Pleasure:
Does someone owe royalties to Chrissy Hynde and The Pretenders for this track?
Come on guys it’s  “Back On The Chain Gang” by Chrissy Hynde and The Pretenders. And that isn’t slight!  Um, no, can’t do this track. If you like that 1980’s thing…ok, but all I can hear is her going “Ohhh Ohhhh Ohhh Ohhhh…” over the top! You’re better than this. WAY better! And by the way, yes…"this song will hurt someone….”  OUCH! The pain!
Grade: B-

Lyric is the second best lyric on the album, and is brilliant. Why does Elton automatically go with this as a melody? Hmmm, I allowed one already….2 Wings, I’m not going to allow two. Can’t! It’s trying hard to get off the ground…hard….bringing in jangly stuff, twelve strings, but nope. I think a better melody was desperately crying out. This song, to me, is just a dud.
I wanted it to be so much more! The song lyric deserved better, it should have at least represented the vitality and spirit of Ray Cooper, whom I am to assume the lyric represents. I read the lyric and automatically thought, wow a gospel-spiritual song!
Elton come on, what is this? You are so much better than this.
I’ll be kind with my grade.
Grade: C+

The Open Chord:
“Heard  a song in my head….and wrote it down…it came out of nowhere…”
Um, Yes! Out of nowhere…”….If nowhere is Peach Tree Road…yes!
(Verses of “Too Many Tears”, 2004’s Peach Tree Road), it is lovely.
I vote this, perhaps the strongest song on the album. It’s certainly in the top three.
And even though it harkens back to "Too Many Tears", it is a far better song than that one.
Why? Because the chorus delivers the goods. Classic ballad Elton John!
And everything “Blue Wonderful” wishes it might be when it grows up.
It’s just lovely. Breath of fresh air. Strong, strong, strong.
Grade: A+

Warning, Warning Doctor Smith……if we stop now the album gets a B+/A- or three stars.
Hmmm two more alternate tracks. What can we find with these?

Free and Easy:
I am scared…make it stop, Oh My God…!
Who is this? This is “Amoreena” Elton? “Elderberry Wine” Elton? What! WHAT AM I HEARING!?
What is that middle part?! WT…..?
Ok, without a doubt, one of the worst songs he has ever released.
It is horrible! Who said, yes, yes this is good?
DUDE, two words, no three…..HONKY FUCKING CHATEAU!
Is this for his kids? Explain?
Grade: D …and ONLY because I’m a fan!
Oh, and I’ll never listen to this again, but you can be assured of me tap dancing and singing to fans just to annoy them. Look, maybe it would have been better to walk in to the studio, grab a mic, hit the piano angrily and say, fuck you!

England and America : Ok now I’m scared, I don’t want to play the next song. Do I have to?
Maybe…just maybe, it can only get better. Oh, wait…before I push play…a thought, fans….
Battle of the songs…All of Victim of Love or "Free and Easy"?! Yes, it’s worse!
Oh one more thing before I push play, this track makes "Flinstone Boy" and "I am Your Robot" sound like "Madman Across The Water."
Oh, before I push play…oh my god I need a beer!

England and America:
Ah, balance has returned to the universe.
Order restored.
However, somehow through that last track I have teleported back to 1983, apparently. Many women dancing around me in black and white striped outfits with their hair up. I think I just saw Madonna, hold on no, that was Chrissy Hynde again.
Wait, did Chrissy Hynde have Elton John’s Love child, too?  Or was that Davey Johnstone’s love child?
Wait! Wait, I have all this wrong. This song is a love song to Davey’s Mullet.
Ok let’s try some review:
Um, "I’m still Standing" it’s not. "Saturday" it’s not….and yeah…um, I guess its ok.
Grade: B

Now for the truth, and it haunts me.
I would take the B side “Fools In Fashion” over half of this album. I’m being serious. That fact alone is why I cannot grant this album a four star or three and a half star rating or an A-. Be careful what you wish for, I suppose someone can say. Yes, I wished for an up-tempo return to form, but I was hoping T. Bone was smart enough, Johnstone was smart enough, and Elton was smart enough to turn this session into classic sound and style, and not lose the momentum and musicianship of The Union and The Diving Board. Those two albums returned John to his classic writing style.  It is not a bad effort. It does show promise and new direction. So, in closing, is this album four stars out of five, according to Rolling Stone magazine? Of course it's not. Folks, one star above that means FIVE STARS, for the likes of Sgt. Pepper or, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. This album is good, it is fun, but no, it is not four stars.

Album Promotion: A+, Some of the best ever!

Album Production: B+, Although a few songs fluctuate a bit higher, I find the mix and balance way off on this one, especially the piano and voice.

Album Cover: B-, It's NOT Caribou, but close...and I just can't get around it as a good cover.

The Band Performance: Solid A!, Everyone in the band delivers here, and their efforts help the instrumental portions breath and give the album a breezy, effortless feel through out.

The Lyrics: B, Not Taupin's best work, although, there are two on this album I'd put in his top twenty efforts of the past decade.

Melodies: B+, All over the road. Some shine, gleam, and glimmer brilliantly, some lag behind, some fall completely short, and one scared me.

Vocals:  B-, Not even CLOSE to his best efforts.

Piano: A-, Not really sure if it's the production that diminishes it's presence or its the piano pounder himself, who carefully chose this, given the band more up front time. Either way, it's not a decision I'd EVER make. Turn up the piano!

Possible Classic Album Tracks in the Vein Of "Have Mercy" or "King Must Die" or "Madman":  C+, Kind of lacking.

Ballads: B, Although having TWO in "The Open Chord" and "A Good Heart". "Blue Wonderful" drops the ball. The album is screaming out for a "Ticking!"  How can you forget to deliver your signature style and sound?

Singles/Commerciality: B-, You need TWO strong candidates, and one needs to be, without question, uptempo. You might have it here in "In the Name Of You" and "A Good Heart"…might. Is that enough? I think a bit more effort is recommended here. Maybe consider releasing "England and America" as the next single?

SUGGESTION: Restructure. Find a new studio. Find a new producer. Sit down and write twice as many songs in two sessions, and make sure you write your ballads and also some classic album cuts.

As a musician who has shaped the course of pop music history, Elton John understands he can get a way with doing a little bit less these days, and quite frankly, few have earned that right more.

But my challenge?
Nina Simone, Leon Russell, and John Lennon would all hold Elton to a much higher standard, as do I.
All written with love, and a little sense of humor.
I remain a fan, always.

Claude W. Bernardin
Co-Author of “Rocket Man: The Music Of Elton John A To Z”
A fan since September of 1970.

8 Feb 2016

Master Of Class Series (II): "Elton has returned, singing and playing with a vengeance that features some of his most upbeat, well crafted songs in a long time" by David Singler

A year round Provincetown resident, David Sigler‘s passion and knowledge for Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s music makes him a renowned fan in the Elton die-hard circles. Ever since he heard Bennie and the Jets in 1974, a special bond was formed. “Next to Lennon and McCartney, John and Taupin are among the most talented, prolific, and diverse songwriters in pop music,” he proudly states. David is thrilled to host, Two Rooms: Celebrating The Music of Elton John and Bernie Taupin, to enlighten listeners of their respective work together and independently. David originally hails from Maryland and is a lifelong Baltimore Orioles and Baltimore Ravens fan (though he cheers on the Patriots too!) In addition to Two Rooms, he enjoys hosting a show called Pop Life: Top 40 Hits from 1970-2000, when the need arises.

"Wonderful Crazy Night" finds Elton John once again, surprising his fans with an all out joyous pop album after a few years of retrospective albums that showcased more serious subjects and downbeat themes. Not that the two previous releases, The Diving Board and The Union (w/Leon Russell), weren't up there with his best work post-2000. But rather, those albums harkened back to the traditional singer-songwriter era of Elton's career before Elton's genuine pop efforts kicked off with the likes of 1972's Honky Chateau. With "Wonderful Crazy Night," Elton has returned, singing and playing with a vengeance that features some of his most upbeat, well crafted songs in a long time.

The opening piano riff on the title song let's the listener know right away that this is going to be a fun tune. Just try getting that riff out of your head after multiple listens. "Looking Up", one of the singles, sort of conjures of the spirit of "I'm Still Standing" with a great guitar solo from Davey Johnstone and a defiant lyric from Bernie Taupin (who wrote all the lyrics on this album).

"Blue Wonderful", one of the few slower songs, has all the hallmarks of a typical Elton John ballad and is worthy of inclusion on any new greatest hits or compilation collection. "Guilty Pleasure" rocks (and rolls) with cool hand claps, rockabilly strumming guitars and a chorus in the 'Crocodile Rock' mode, along with a blistering guitar solo from Davey Johnstone that is reminiscent of his best '70s work (think the Caribou outtake 'Sick City').

"Claw Hammer" conjures up a southern swampy feel with it's percussion flourishes that bookend the song. Plus, it features a surprising jazzy finish with a horn section (that should have had more input during the entire song). "Tambourine" sways with a gentleness of Elton's best country-tinged songs and features long time percussionist Ray Cooper playing, what else, a tambourine.

"I've Got 2 Wings", one of Taupin's best lyrics on the album, is in the great story telling narrative he's so wonderful at writing. It opens with Elton humming the melody and an accordion in the background complimenting the song. This song is written about Rev. Utah Smith. Smith, was a preacher who wore two paper wings while playing guitar during his sermons and this song just may be the albums most thought out arrangement.

"England and America" (one of the bonus tracks) is another rock song that starts off with a bang a la something Meatloaf and Jim Stineman would have written (especially Elton's piano licks). "In The Name of You" has a cool piano opening riff that is accompanied by Kim Bulllards organ playing and Johnstone's guitar touches. "Free and Easy" (another bonus track), feels like it was an old demo from Elton's 1969's album Empty Sky (I'm not kidding) with it's Beatle-esque arrangement, organ and harpsichord.

I could really go on and on in detail about every song on this album. The striking thing for me is that it's clear that the intent and direction Elton set to achieve was masterfully executed on nearly every level. From the band (Nigel Olsson on drums, Matt Bisonnette on bass, John Mahon on percussion and the aforementioned Kim Bullard, Davey Johnstone and Ray Cooper), to the deft touch of producer T. Bone Burnett and of course, Taupin's unique but rather light hearted lyrics (at the request of Elton). Wonderful Crazy Night is an album in the grand tradition of Elton's best pure pop albums. No gimmicks. No following trends. No (thank God) dance beats with auto-tone enhancements.

Simply put, this is another excellent album from Elton John and Bernie Taupin, and likely to rocket itself into my Top 10 favorite Elton John albums of all time.

More about WOMR:

10 can make the difference project

7 Feb 2016

Masters Of Class Series (I): "Looks back to the 70s while bringing us forward to today" by Elizabeth Rosenthal

Born 25 March 1947, as Reginald Kenneth Dwight, Elton John is one of pop music great references. "I discovered Elton John in 1989. Over a decade after his commercial heyday. But better late than never. Besides, there was lots of music of his to discover. To this day, I keep discovering it." Elizabeth J. Rosenthal's passion for Elton is well-known. More than 70s concerts on her shoulders: "I act like a 13-year-old, climbing over seats to reach the stage at the appointed time". Her first book, "His Song: the Musical Journey of Elton John", was published in fall 2001 by Billboard Books, an imprint of Watson-Guptill Publications, and its the most thorough biography of Elton John ever written.

Elton John says he wanted to make a “joyous,” “jingly-jangly,” uptempo record to showcase his current mood and show the uninitiated how he and his band rock out on stage, night after wonderful, crazy night.  The result is Wonderful, Crazy Night, truly a “festival” of music, as Elton’s co-producer, T Bone Burnett, observed recently.  It needs to be heard! Hear ye, Elton’s stuck-in-the-70s fans; all sorts of Elton fans of all eras, ages, sexual orientations, body types, and ethnicities; and misguided people who were never his fans!  As Elton says, this album looks back to the 70s while bringing us forward to today. It was recorded live, with his regular, as the man himself terms it, “kick-ass” band. Every band member has shining moments on this album, and Elton again proves he’s got more piano licks up his sleeve than there are species of animal life on this planet, and that his voice gets better and better as he gets older and older. Plus, Bernie Taupin has come up with another set of evocative lyrics that can be pored over with fascination.  Here is my track-by-track overview:

WONDERFUL CRAZY NIGHT:  A joyous and rollicking opening to Elton’s 33rd studio album, which sets the tone for an uplifting, 10-song cycle.  Thinking back to a fun summer night of young romance – and plenty of eating, drinking, and music listening, Taupin writes: “Ice cubes on the back of your neck/ Warm wind blowin’ through the parking lot/ Radios hummin’ in every car/ And you feel like the clocks have stopped…. Loose clothes and a cool, cool drink/ A greasy breeze from the chicken stand/ Hearts on fire just one last time/ A wishbone snappin’ in every hand.” Elton’s piano goes through amazing changes, sometimes pounding loudly, other times chasing some rapid runs. New bassist Matt Bissonette displays on this and several other tracks his ability to recall the late Dee Murray’s playing, but with his own thumping, melodic style.

IN THE NAME OF YOU:  This bluesy, funky, infectious track recalls several others – “Wake Up, Wendy,” Elton’s contribution to the 1998 South Park album, Chef Aid;  “My Kind of Hell,” a bonus track on Elton’s 2010 album with Leon Russell, The Union; the Commodores’ 1977 hit, “I’m Easy,” in guitarist Davey Johnstone’s searing guitar solo; and any number of songs by the 70s band Bad Company, but with much better singing.

CLAW HAMMER:  Elton says that this one starts off like Steely Dan, continues like Little Feat, and ends up, with some very effective jazz-synth horns by keyboardist Kim Bullard, like Peter Gabriel. The Byrds are also audible, in the jingly-jangly mid-section of the song; Elton’s abstract piano outro, which inspired Bullard’s synth horns, recalls some of EJ’s extemporizing on the live version of “Madman Across the Water” that he and the band played on many a night just a few years ago. Taupin conjures up some interesting imagery about someone who is extremely hard to know: “You’re buttoned down/ All sewn up / You’re an archeological soul…. You’re gonna need a claw hammer/ Oh, my Lord/ To bust on through/ And break down your walls.”

BLUE WONDERFUL: About someone’s love for a pixie-like spirit affected by wanderlust, this is an exquisite, mid-tempo ballad that Bob Dylan really ought to cover. Elton’s voice begins with a soft vulnerability that’s new to his recordings. He pleads with his magical sprite: ‘Go where you want when you want to/ Just don’t let the wind tear you free / Stick around the light that brings you home / Don’t ever hang around with the breeze.” T Bone Burnett, though not officially part of the band, contributes some atmospheric, sonorous guitar work, as Elton’s sensitive piano lines gently lift it up.

I’VE GOT 2 WINGS:  I choked up the first time I heard this, but it’s not sad, just moving. It’s about the real but elusive Elder Utah Smith, an African-American preacher who lived a positive, uplifting life, traveling around the South during the time of Jim Crow wearing gigantic paper angel wings and playing an electric Gibson guitar as he preached mercy, peace, and love to black congregations.  It has a folky vibe; Elton hums at the beginning  and end a mystical melody that breaks into song about this fleeting , spiritual man: “I was here/ And I was gone/ Just a heartbeat from the past/ But I went from paper wings to the real thing at last.”  Echoes of pre-rock guitar noodling that the real preacher might have played haunt the last few minutes of the recording, heightening the song’s emotion.

A GOOD HEART:  A power ballad, but an emotionally honest one. Elton says this could be about him and David (his husband), or possibly about his writing partnership with Taupin, although the former option fits better: “Don’t be afraid of all my years/ What you see or what you hear/ It’s all yours and yours alone/ Yours for the taking/ So take it home.” This tune has country leanings, but is otherwise of a kind with “You’re Never Too Old,” from Elton’s 2010 collaboration with Leon Russell, except this one sounds more urgent and more personal. Elton’s strong, supple, hopelessly romantic vocal is the stand-out of the album.

LOOKING UP: This is the one we all heard first, when it was introduced to British and American radio back in October. Don’t be fooled by its deceptively simple verse-chorus hybrid structure. This is quite a tour de force in musicianship, and one of the three purely rockin’ numbers on the album (the others being the title track and the one coming up immediately below).

GUILTY PLEASURE:  Elton says this is the album’s most “raucous” number, and thinks that it could have been his punk anthem.  The electric guitars roar throughout, the melody is angry and defiant, and the whole thing moves like a hurricane. It is probably the most simplistic of all of the songs on this CD. Still,  I recommend CRANKING IT UP and jumping up and down to the beat in your “Rock Lobster” sandals.

TAMBOURINE:  This track is the most 60s-style, jingly-jangly of the 10; Davey Johnstone’s guitar parts come through squeaky-clean – you can almost touch them – as if he were playing right next to you. Instrumentally and vocally, it bears a striking similarity to the 1975 Rock of the Westies outtake, “Planes,” as well as the1976 Blue Moves album track, “Cage the Songbird,” but the melody here is more memorable and just plain lovelier. Better yet, on “Tambourine,” Elton hasn’t sounded so young in ages!

THE OPEN CHORD:  This song is among the most gorgeous on the album, even with its rock edge.  Elton has revealed that “The Open Chord” was inspired by his late-in-life fatherhood and that of Taupin’s with the lyricist’s young wife. The open chord is: “A new broom/ Sweeping up the scenes I no longer play/ cleaning out the corners/ Clipping off the horns/ That the devil used to make me wear all day.” As Elton sings, with evident happiness and satisfaction, “You’re an open chord I’m gonna play all day,” we see how he feels nowadays, as an Elder Statesman of Rock who loves what he does professionally and, with all his heart, the family he goes home to.

More about Liz:

After graduating magna cum laude with a journalism degree from Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Public Communications in 1982, Liz Rosenthal attended Rutgers-Camden School of Law, from which she graduated With Honors in 1985. Subsequently, she was admitted to the bars of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. For the past 20 years, Rosenthal has been a civil servant, writing regulations for New Jersey state government, testifying before the state legislature about pending legislation affecting the civil service system, and serving as liaison to the State Attorney General's Office.

Eventually, her passion for writing, discovered in the third grade where she was doing the school paper, merged with a newly-acquired love of wild birds, and her current book "Birdwatcher: The Life of Roger Tory Peterson" (Lyons Press, 2008) chronicles the life of the naturalist and conservationist man, a birding guru to millions, the most resourceful  of scientists in his tireless sharing and synthesizing of information the world has provided.

Liz owns a blogsite on as well she has contributed to a variety of print publications and blogs. Among them are the following:

“Elton John and Ray Cooper at the Royal Opera House.” Official Program of the Charity Concert in Aid of the Royal Academy of Music Organ Appeal 28 January 2011.

“Watching Sparrows, a DVD by Michael Male and Judy Fieth.", December 7, 2010.

Film Review - “Ghost Bird, [directed by] Scott Crocker.” Bird Watcher’s Digest, July/August 2010.

Book Review – “Birdscapes: Birds in our Imagination and Experience by Jeremy Mynott.” Bird Watcher’s Digest, November/December 2009.

"Birding with Roger." Bird Watcher's Digest, July/August 2008.

“Foreword.” Essential Elton John: A Step-by-Step Breakdown of Elton John's Keyboard Styles and Techniques (Keyboard Signature Licks Series), Hal Leonard Corp., 2006.

The Master Class Series About "Wonderful Crazy Night"

Hi Eltonites!!! Due to the release of the well expected new Elton John album, finding him promoting with high energy. Here, in AllSongsList, we want to continue what we did in 2010, for "The Union" and in 2013 for "The Diving Board" albums, asking fifth of a kind people to review the album. Sure there are a lot of reviews out there, but no ones like this master class series, particularly for being from an eltonite prisma.I think I told you several times how I missed the days that Hercules or East End Lights fanzines arrived home. The place where I live, in Spain, it wasn't so much info about Elton John at that time, the only info we've got was for his tantrums, his eccentricities, his clothes, ... but poor things about his music, the most rellevant thing. 

Those fanzines, made by the effort and the excitement of eltonites like me made such a worthy job promoting Elton and talking about the things we fans really interested. I remember how much I enjoyed reading Jim Turano's articles and reviews, that man is a magician; enjoying so much the irony of Claude Bernardin and his passion for Elton's catalogue, this man is such so great; enjoying reading the articles of Liz Rosenthal about Elton with her sensibility and knowledge about Elton, this lady is such a genious; enjoying George Matlock commentaries about Elton and how he was (then and now) expert in Elton's area of influence, this man is such so incredible; and enjoying David Sigler passion and effort doing an exclusive Elton John and Bernie Taupin radio show every week, this man is such so talented. Could not forget the book that every eltonite must have in their library: "His Song: the musical journey of Elton John", by Liz Rosenthal; "Rocket Man: from A-Z" by Claude Bernardin along witn Tom Stanton; "The Elton John Scrapbook" by Mary Anne Cassata and Jim Turano. And how rellevant radio shows are the ones on Radio ORLA (now a podcaster in demand) co-founded and directed by George Matlock; or the celebrated every week festival of standards and obscure tracks on air on WOMR 92.1 fm (Provincetown), 91.3 (fm Orleans).

So, I would like to thank publicly to Claude Bernardin, to George Matlock, to Jim Turano, to David Sigler and to Liz Rosenthal for this great job, for their collaboration with AllSongsList again this time and for doing such wonderful and amazing articles. You are the best, a five of a kind!

So, Eltonites, this is just the beginning. Hope you enjoy as much as I am doing. The "Wonderful Crazy Week" continues. Thanks always for being there!!!

6 Feb 2016

Jack Rabbit in London (part five)

1996 first time in London: it was what I called the Elton John Tour (Pinner, Northwood Hills, Watford, 101 Wardour Street, EJAF, ...). 1997 it was the second: Promoting The Big Picture album and living the impacted Princess Diana death. 2004 the third on Woodside and EJAF and Rocket Music. 2009 the benefit event at the Royal Albert Hall with Elton John and starring Ray Cooper. Finally, 2016, the signing event at Hvm Record store and more. Twenty years in all, spending worthy times in London related to Elton John.

Always when I am travelling to see Elton John in one of his shows, as many of eltonites I suppose, the first lines of Rocket Man comes to mind. But this time, the line "And I am gonna be high as a kite by then". When on Monday 25th January I was sitting at home I couldn't imagine that the dream I had since my youth, since my eltonite early days, will appear without noticing. A message from a friend awaring me about that, a faster registration at Hvm booking tickets, and a message telling "you are in". Such incredible how lucky I was. I arranged the same day my travel plan and I booked the hotel (Princes Square again, it seems to be my place there). The following days were destinated to fullfill the agenda while I was in the city for two and a half days. Allsongslist deserved to pay more attention while trying to complete the list of songs.

So when the aircraft arrived to Gatwick from Barcelona, I went directly to BBC Maina Vale studios, it was around 10 in the morning (I wake up at 03:30 am). Just three people waiting there, and some in a car. I went on BBC reception and I guess the man who attended me still couldn't believe I asked to be at the show. Obviously he kindly said I couldn't. So I had to wait outside  while I was listening Elton on the interview with Ken Bruce performing some beatiful rendition of some of his classics added to some new ones. I went directly to one of the cars also waiting: press, I could imagined before. "When you see that car over there moving, just go ahead as faster as you can". Ok. By 12:00 am that car, a magnificient Red Bentley approached to one of the doors, and immediatily security made their presence. Some runnings and Elton suddenly appears. Almost twelve eltonites were there and Elton stopped to sign some treasured items. Ipad on hand I began to make pictures of Elton, while press behind me were pushing. "Hi Elton" and "see you later" exchanged with "Hi" before get into the car. Well, first round.

The way to Hmv in Oxford Street was so faster. I got there at about 01:00 pm. Just took a walk on the store buying something and then when I got outside I found some dearly eltonite friends: Mark Giles was there, Jane Bradley and Jane Behrman. Some pictures in front of the advertisement and waiting turn. 

Doors opened at 04:00 pm and somebody went for us. Going upstairs, to one private place. About 50 Hmv VIP members would be the first to go. Suddenly, applauses began and the idol made his entrance. David Furnish was behind. Elton took his seat behind the curtains, and the queue starting to move. General excitement. We could hear the album play all the songs. Could not forget the faces of people when they left the place. "No pictures are allowed". Upps!!! "Leave your bags here". My three years old daughter made a picture about Elton and David.

I explained then to him how worried I was to see Júlia (my daughter) loves Enrique Iglesias and Taylor Swift, but how "Blue Wonderful", her favourite song, took interest and played over and over, until she began to say "Ton Chow" (as Elton John) as if Elton was chinese. He smiled and replied "How sweetie". So when my turn arrived I was so impacted to see the man: "Hi Elton, I am so happy to be here". "Hi, it's my pleasure". He looked at me and while I said what I had in mind to say, for years, in case I got the chance, he kindly thank. We shake hands, gave me the autograph picture and I left. I looked behind again to see if it was real or just a dream. 

Someone took a picture of me leaving, I don't know who, but I could have no more words enough to thank. Also to the one who made the picture of Mark and me waiting with Elton. I saw David Furnish and shake hands too while saying some kind words. Security didn't allowed me to stay more time there (obviously) and had to go out. Then just waved goodbye to Mark, Jane, Sandra and Jane. I was so fortunate to meet in person Keith Hayward, the man who have written two wonderful books about Elton, precisely I have one on my bag, so he kindly agreed to sign it. I left the store and went to eat and drink something because I absolutely forget to do on the excitement. Didn't have so much time to touring, I went to see the musical of Billy Elliot, although I doubted with this or going to Watford to see the match againast Chelsea. Immediatily then I went to the hotel, check in and go to sleep. The day after I had to wake up at 07:00 am because someone is awaiting me related to my allsongslist archive.

Just I got time to leave the underground to Westminster station to see the Elizabeth Tower and Big Ben. Everytime I came to London that's obligated. So next turn was to go to a certain place I could not say, to see someone I could not say, and to exchanged info about the songs written by Elton. Allsongslist has about 1.000 songs written or sang by Elton, what I couldn't imagine is that I noticed outtakes and songs never heard. I had so short time to complete my allsongslist so it was hard to pick everything up, but I did. Thankfully allsongslist database was so complete, but despite of this, I had so hard work.

When I left the place, I realized Elton gifted Saint Pancras Station a beatiful Yamaha Black Piano while improving some tunes of his own songs. I couldn't be there. So, when everything finished, I went to the hotel again while going to the airport to get back home. When I arrived home I got my own copy of the "Wonderful Crazy Night" album I purchased. My cd player was ready to listen and play the new material. Yes, sure, that album it will be a winner. Almost now it had the appropiated promo, it semt that Elton was everywhere!!!

5 Feb 2016

Wonderful Crazy Week!!!

Hello Eltonites, the day has come! The long expected new album "Wonderful Crazy Night", the 33rd album by one of the most prolific artists of the century, and one of most succesful, is out today. The album, co-produced by Elton with T-Bone Burnett, was recorded at Los Angeles' Village Studios, with Elton's band (the last time was on "Captain And The Kid", in 2006) and Bernie Taupin, as usual, provided the lyrics. A very strong team, even Ray Cooper collaborated on some tracks, to return Elton to the place he deserves: at the top again. "In 17 days we did 14 songs, 10 of which ended up on the album" explained a joyful Elton, when he was asked about the new material. This is how Elton and the band used to work in the past, very quickly, writing the new song, recording and finished in the same day. It is available across a number of formats including super deluxe edition box set.

"I wanted to do something joyous because I was so happy with my children and my husband. Happy with everything," the star says on a different interviews on press, radio and TV programs. He explained, when he developed the idea of the album, how he called guitarrist and music director Davey Johnstone to "go out and buy 12-strings guitars" because "I (he) want to hear lots of them on the record". The result is an optimistic album, with more up-tempo numbers than the previous ones. Meanwhile Elton confessed to Rolling Stone Magazine he was gutted to see how Capitol Records rejected the project: "this is a fucking good record, can't understand why they don't want to put it out. But they've done me a favour (...) I landed on Island Records and they were so thrilled" continued. But that doesn't matter now. Elton's got so much energy, so much talent, that he presents a new collection of songs, some of them reminiscent of his sound of the 70s, and it is on sale today.

Allsongslist, due to this big event, presents a "Wonderful Crazy Week" with some surprises related to the release of the new album. After celebrating the 30 years of when allsongslist began, I have so much joy to count with some special guests who will collaborate on the week. They will be introduced along the week. Also, we sent Jack Rabbit to London to see the atmosphere around this Wonderful Crazy new Elton John album, on another eltonin' around the world experience that will be explained also in 
time. Provided with an ipad, a pen, a note book, a map of the city and the archives of allsongslist, he lived so wonderful crazy experiences that will be explained on this event and on the forthcoming event in 2017, due to Elton's 70th Birthday, and also the 50th year of collaboration between Elton John and Bernie Taupin. 

So thanks for being here, again with allsongslist, I hope you enjoyed what is prepared to you, it will be promoted on Facebook eltonjohn allsongslistfriends group, twitter and Instagram (@jacques_lapin), and on the most well known fansites. So take your seats, fasten seat belts and have a safe trip.

17 Mar 2015

The Guest Book: Kim Bullard seen by Eltonites

This is Kim Bullard's guest book. There are several eltonites who, after the interview with Bullard, send me their pictures and thoughts about him, so we were agree to make it public. One thing is obvious, Kim Bullard  has conquered the hearts of fans with his kindness, passion and professionalism. So there's a taste of comments sent to Jack Rabbit about our guest, in the past days. Feel free to send whatever thoughts or wishes you have for him, just to show how much we love him. Thanks so much for your collaboration. Eltonites, this is your time.

"Loved reading the article Kim, It shows your passion for Music, and for Elton himself.. You make the EJ band cool!!! Look forward to seeing you in June... I will have my "madman" tee shirt on.. 2nd row.. ready to rock!!!.Cant wait" .. Pic from Leigh in June.. xxx" (Janet Lois Speariett, UK, 43 concerts, since 1973)

"Kim Bullard,a fine genuine person and a great musician. This photo was at the Elton John LATW in Las Vegas,Nevada. It was a pleasure meeting you.You have filled in beautifully into the Elton John band. All the best wishes for continued success" (Richard Georgeou, USA, 88 concerts, since 1970)

"I've had the privilege of meeting Kim Bullard in person twice now.  First, at the Elton Expo in Vegas in October 2013, and most recently, before my 43rd Elton John concert in Jacksonville, Florida. I've always had great respect for him, and I have a special place in my heart for piano and keyboard players. What a gracious (and might I add very handsome) man! In Vegas, I introduced myself as "I'm a Kim, too" and he high-fived me. He signed my GBYBR CD, so I now have all 5 of the current touring band members' signatures on that same CD.  A prized possession! In Jacksonville, he gladly took a photo op with me, signed my tour book and we chatted for a few minutes. (Burn Down the Mission is his current favorite song to play.  Glad they added it back to the set list)! Since then, I found out his daughter (Katy Rose) was born on January 27 - same day as my son! Thank you, Kim, for your graciousness and for all the years of amazing music! Hope to meet you again sometime soon" (Kimberlee Kemble, USA, 43 concerts, since 1974)

"Anybody who has ever heard FFAF/LLB knows what a demanding synthezizer piece it is. Kim Bullard has managed to reproduce it perfectly live. Using several complex electronic sounds at once, the audience is blown away every time it hears this. He arrives from out of the smoke on stage.  In fact, Kim is often the one who starts the shows, since this piece is often the opening number. Alice also gives Kim, along with Davey, the chance to add unusual sounds. Now with more string drama towards the end, the song is more exciting than ever. However, he also has an ear for Elton’s more melodious music. The soft strings you hear in the background in ballads like Tiny Dancer and Your Song make the songs sound soft and smooth. Elton’s music is so varied that for a keyboard player’s point of view, it’s like working for ELO, Carole King and Scissor Sisters at the same time. Some of my favourite playing of his is in The Blues. He has completely made the harmonica solo his own at the same not forgetting the original solo by Stevie Wonder. Kim adds to the magic but never overplays. He interacts with the band from his platform and often poses for a smile or laughs with other band members, at the same time as he’s delivering the goods. We have been very lucky to have met him twice in person. He was so kind to take some time with us and share our Elton experiences. Both times were awesome as he really seemed to enjoy the fans company as well and we couldn’t be more pleased. We are completely overwhelmed to attend our very first show in The Colosseum in Vegas this April. An event we never would have imagined. We can’t wait to live this experience with Elton & The Band" (Mariona Calafell, Spain, 31 concerts, since 1997)

"Picture was taken at Fayetteville, North Carolina on March 11th by my good friend Tommy T Baughman. Please let Kim know that I am a big fan and I'm sure he knows who I am from seeing me at the front at UK concerts! I'm looking forward to seeing him and all the Band this summer" (Ros Dinsdale, UK, 40 concerts, since 1973)

"Kim is a SUPER nice guy !!! I had the pleasure to meet him a few times... He is a lovely man and during this years he has become a precious member of the EJ's Band! Can not wait to see him again in italy this Summer" (Silvia Corsaletti, Italy, 35 concerts, since 1993)

"I met Kim this past January and had a wonderful time just chatting and hanging out. He's so down to earth and easy going and so fan lucky to have had the chance to meet him...." (Jennifer Keller, USA, 10 concerts, since 1980)

"Kim, you are a keyboard wizard! The way you've mastered "Funeral For A Friend" is just incredible. I am so happy and thrilled for you that you joined the band! When I saw you with EJ and the band in Denver on 9/20/2014 from the 3rd row, I felt the vibrations beneath my feet! Even more so at the front of the stage. (I wore the flashing blue sequined hat.) It was great seeing you enjoying yourself, having realized a dream. I have friends who have met you and say how nice and cool you are, and always happy to take a picture with them. I admire your humility and kindness when it comes to meeting fans! I am hoping to get to Vegas for the show on 4/14 (there is a free front row ticket and hotel for me; all I need is airfare and I'm there! !) Wishing you many blessings and much happiness, always". (Stacie Purcell Pearson, USA, 50 concerts, since 1970)

"I had the opportunity to meet Kim twice. Once in 2011 and the other time was in 2013 at the Elton Expo in Vegas. I cannot say enough good things about this man. He is very personable as well as professional. He took the time to chat with me. When I spoke with him, I informed him that I am a gymnast. I shared with him that I am using Elton’s music for my gymnastics routines". (Missy Gymns, USA, 10 concerts, since 2002)

"Besides being an outstanding professional who gives a special color to the repertoire of Elton John with your fantastic keyboard, Kim Bullard earned his place at EJ Band definitely with talent and charisma. And just like all his band mates, he's always very friendly with all the fans. I wish Kim all the success. He deserves!" (Vera Lucia Piovesani, Brazil, 5 concerts, since 2009)
"Since Kim joined the band he has kept a steady line between keeping the integrity of Elton's music intact and stamping his own personality on it. Because he 'gets' Elton's music it's no chore for him to carefully navigate the myriad of colours that Elton's music has conjured up over the years. Whether it be Synth strings, Moog, Hammond, Fender Rhodes and all other keyboards in between. Even though Kim might not wear a cape he's still got the versatility to keep any man awake! See what I did there... like all his colleagues in the band he's a terrific ambassador for Elton and his music. Both to the common man on the street and most importantly, the diehard fans. I can't wait to hear him on the new album later this year!!" (Paul Purcell, Ireland, 12 concerts, since late 80s)

"Hello from Italy, I look forward to see you live in Italy this summer and to hear the new Elton album featuring your work for the first time ever...I'm sure it will be a success!" (Andrea Grasso, Italy)

"Would love if you could tell Bullard how much I love the band and his playing. He's a genius, and I'm looking forward to the summer, in Bergen, Norway" (Inge Alexander Simonsen, Norway, 7 concerts, since 2008)

* Picture of Kim Bullard behind Elton, with Matt Bisonette, courtesy of Rudy Garrido, Spain

"I have been a diehard fan of Elton's band members since ever since. Since I was a kid, my dream was seeing Elton playing with any member of the band. Kim Bullard is part of the impeccable sound which I will feel eternal devotion. A musician worthy to be part of my loving Elton's band. Thanks for existing" (Mayra Fuentemayor, Venezuela, 1 concert, since 1974)

"Hi Kim and Katy Rose, I never got to see you play with Elton yet. I hope to someday soon, I enjoyed reading your articles and learning a little more about both of you. Take care........... (Jim Oksen newloneranger, USA, 7 concerts, since 1980)

* Intro picture by the greatest Jennifer Keller, USA, she took the picture of him after leaving the stage, after Elton finished SNARFF at The MDP show. How appropiated for the intro of the article. Thanks so much Jennifer. (Jack Rabbit)