Total Pageviews

23 Oct 2010

The Master Expertises (I): Claude Bernardin

You CAN Make History Young Again:

Back in 1970/71 some albums just demanded that you had to go out and buy them. “Four Way Street”, “Deja Vu”, “Tumbleweed Connection”, “Music For Bangladesh”, “Leon Russell”, “Mad Dog’s and Englishmen”, “Elton John”. You would hear of them, everyone was a buzz, and you just knew the music was going to be great.

Do you really need a review of this album before you get it? Two “Talking Old Soldiers” of Rock’n’Roll are back together again after 38 years! And the ivories are singing louder than “Romeo Angels in the roof above...” That’s not enough? Ok, well then, It’s an Extraordinary, Epic album. Easily In Elton’s top 15, “Without Question” ( pun intended! ).

The music on this selection is infused with vigor and a haunting organic spirit, reminiscent of John’s “Tumbleweed Connection” and “Honky Chateau” days of Old. Gospel-gritty snatches of God almighty, foot-thumping Rock’n’Roll. This album is in a class of its own, totally “unique”. This first-rate material will most certainly further burnish these Piano Legends gold star status. A fresh Southern cross-pollination of two musical Giants. Elton John, the lush-craftsman, and Leon Russell, the innovator. These Giants are now in a place where only a handful of songwriters dwell, and judging from the material on this new CD, it is with some justification.

If the last 40 years tells us anything, it tells us that these two very hard working musicians have not lost their passion for all things Rock. One only needs to get to track 3, “Hey Ahab”, and 23 seconds in, the song kicks in like the Furnace in my basement! As well, wordsmith Bernie Taupin cannot be easily ignored here. Taupin has handed John and Russell some of his best lyrical work since 1971. A perfect example of this is on the stand out cut, ”The Best Part Of The Day”...

There’s a Canyon where an echo hangs
Like the ancient bells of Notre Dame
It’s beyond the hills out of sight
Thought I heard’em ringing all last night
Hear the mating call of the morning Dove
Like Romeo Angels in the roof above
Rains will come sweet and clean
Let the tears of God keep the Mountains green

It is clear, Taupin’s brisk, Hollywoodesque storytelling has evolved way past the Mid-70’s, “She’s got electric boots and Mohair suits, you know I read it in a magazine...Oh, Oh, Benny and The Jetssssssssssssss!”.

Lyrically the album seems to sometimes hint at Leon’s declining health, “Roll back the covers, and raise the shades...” and “wheezing like a freight never drew a decent breath.” But Taupin and Elton obviously stood by him, as Bernie writes, “Don’t think you’ve gone out, Don’t flicker and fade...”

The material on this selection seems to suggest his health has since improved.

To me personally, we in America, have adopted this Poet, lyricist - Taupin...yes, he was born in England, but Bernie Taupin adopted America in 1970/71 when he began writing songs like “Burn Down The Mission” “Tiny Dancer”, “Indian Sunset” and “Talking Old Soldiers.” He does not let us down on this new Project, and in fact may deliver one of the best lyrics he’s written in nearly 40 years, with the Epic Ballad, “Gone To Shiloh”. This might be Taupin’s lyrical high spot of the album:

April’s come and the air smells fresh with rain
They watched his shadow fade around the bend
He’s headed for a different kind of thunder
Than the stunned surprise in the eyes of dying men...

Hey, guys, I get it, I’m a fan, I’m supposed to like them....but seriously, anyone alive who has not heard Elton’s live solo version of this track in recent weeks, DO YOURSELF A FAVOR...NOW!” The song is one of Elton’s strongest melodies in 30 years.

The album version, holds together elegantly. No, it is not the dramatic reading a solo Elton John performance can garner, but I almost prefer this version already. It is slower. But there’s so much going on in it, from the Brass instruments, to the thundering drums, to Neil Young’s silvery, fragile vocal harmonies....the song soars! And come on! Having Young on this album singing those poetic words ? Are you kidding me? How cool is that?!!!!!!!!!!! Can you JUST imagine a Neil Young, Leon Russell, and Elton John album?

As I listen for the “fifth” time now, I begin to think of such Elton songs as “Border Song”, “Slave”, “Hercules”, “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” and “Indian Sunset” and suddenly I realize, we are perhaps in a whole new field here. We truly have an album of the caliber of 76’s “Blue Moves” or “Caribou”.

It has been a pleasure to listen to the music these two men have created for the last 40 years. I am a fan of the piano, and that’s exactly what you get on this CD. Beautiful, catchy Notes picked out of the atmosphere of T. Bone Burnetts, earthy roots oriented arrangements. This is good’Ol Boy, Blues and Gospel, with a touch of Texas and Oklahoma twang. But it’s music to make you smile, it’s music to lighten the burdens of the day. So you say, perhaps, you’ve heard it all before, a fan, telling the World this album or that one is another masterpiece.

Well then I challenge you to do as I did, give “When Love is Dying” five listens, and then let’s talk. My first listen of this track I wrote the following,” Ok, so I get it, it’s supposed to be the album’s Big Ballad, The Classic Elton ballad, so why am I not convinced?” I then wrote, “Everyone will love this song to death, why do I hate it?”

And then I listened again, and again, and again, and suddenly I couldn’t get the damn thing out of my head. Suddenly I was looking forward to it. And then it hit me, “Holy God, I can only think of 3 songs like it...”Someone Saved My Life Tonight”, “It’s Getting Dark In Here” and “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me”. Was it possible it was that good? The answer after 6 listens now? YES!!!!!!!!!! It’s a classic! Best big love ballad from Elton John and Bernie Taupin since 1974’s, “Caribou” album. So what would you say if I also suggested this album just might also have the Best rocker since 1974’s “The Bitch Is Back”? Well it has two! “Monkey Suit” and “Hey Ahab”.

But Leon Russell is in no way to be lightly brushed aside here. Russell, suffering from a brain hemorrhage, and only days out of the Hospital, hands in one of his best piano and vocal performances in the last 30 years. I can get it down to one track, “Hearts Have Turned To Stone”. Here Leon gives his younger buddy Taupin a good swift lyrical kick in the behind, when Russell writes...

Now the sun is rising higher in the sky
The morning light is crawling
From the darkness of the night
The raindrops keep on falling
There is no light of day
The sadness deep inside me
Doesn’t seem to go away...

and we feel his pain and sorrow. It’s both Poetic as Wordsworth, and honest as the day is long. Elton’s sneaky, but amazing backing vocals, and Durio, Hill, Vega, and Witherspoon dominate this song with brilliant additional vocal elements. Which by the way, is there any other performance by backing vocalists in Elton’s recording History, that has the power these ladies emote on this album? The song chugs along like a freight train. And besides that, it’s “CLASSIC”, “VINTAGE” Leon Russell. Hey if you don’t get the title reference to 1971’s “Roll Away The Stone”, you need to go take a course in Rock Music History 101.

But seriously, the song is a perfect return to form for Leon. And God I missed this man in Rock Music. There was nothing like him then , or now. I love how everyone tries to figure his style out, but they never get it down to “Gospel”!!!!!! Thus the wonderful backup singers.

For me personally, it means more than I can express in words that Elton John, woke up to his roots, returned, and found Leon Russell, who was hopping from small Town America to small town America, and pulled him back into the ring. These two are Legends. And that they are now writing and recording together after all these years, it is my personal dream come true. It is more than Christmas Day for me. I am sure this album will always be in my top 15. as I write this I am reflecting on sitting fifth row the last six years at the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, Pa. watching Leon perform “Roll Away The Stone” and “Hummingbird” and thinking to myself, “How, ? How do we get Elton to stop doing the Hits thing, and help out this guy? The music they could make! And Leon so needs a helping hand right now.”

And then the news broke! You can hear Elton’s passion, you can hear his enthusiasm and respect in every note. Russell is also in fine form through out this project, with such musical gems as “If It Wasn’t For Bad”, “I Should Have Sent Roses” and the gorgeous Hymn like tribute to Elton John and T. Bone, “Hands Of Angels”.

The pair blend almost effortlessly on the skiffle-inspired, “A Dream Come True”. This was the first song/piano jam that the two ever played on for these sessions, according to Leon Russell in an Interview for Yamaha Pianos. And when Leon sings ...”And the music’s sweet....” and Elton answers with....”Now I feel the beat of the dancing drums and now I know we’re gonna have some fun....” yes, just like the Chorus suggests...”It seems like “The both of you...” can chase the clouds away...” I can’t stop my foot from tapping, and I just smile! and to further quote the song -
“And all my blues are through....” . Amen, gentleman, Job well done!

Throughout this album, one can easily hear all the Love, Faith, compassion and stronger sense of Life’s values.
And perhaps Taupin delivers the album’s ultimate Motto:

I could bet on a horse
But I’m betting on you
You ( both ) still got what it takes
You’ve got nothing, nothing to prove.

I could go on and on about each song. I will let that for another. Suffice it to say, this “IS” the Music I grew up on in 1971, and it is simply lovely to hear again. I love this album, can’t stop playin’ it, and won’t for months.

I must also take the time to say that T. Bone Burnett did what NO other Producer, since Gus Dudgeon could do, he returned us to the “Sound” of Elton John. Yes others stepped up to the plate, and a few, managed some brilliance, but through and through, Burnett has hit the ball out of the Park! I bow to you, Sir, you ...are the man! Give him a Grammy now for this project!

I have only one final heartfelt plea....Elton, Leon, don’t let ten years go by without bringing everyone who made this album, back into a studio and do it all again. You guys got your feet wet with this one. I give it 9 out of 10 stars. I know you guys have even more to offer. But more importantly this friendship needs to grow, musically. Get back “Honky cats, Better get back to the studio!” :)

P.S. –

It’s 7 A.M. on Thursday, October 14th, the morning after I wrote that review....I’m driving down the freeway tapping the steering wheel to a new song. Elton and Leon dueling away on machine gun piano, and the sun’s still not out –
“But the music’s sweet makes me feel brand new...”

7:15 I’ve stopped at a local Mart, gassing up and I’m stirring a cup of warm coffee behind a counter as I hear this song playing on the ceiling speakers, “Roll Over Beethoven”, but it’s not The Beatles, It’s not Chuck Berry either.....and then I hear the piano and that twang...and I chuckle to myself, “ Ahhh, the World has suddenly learned there just might be a great album coming out to go we better play some songs by that guy...Ole’what’s his name.?..Oh, yeah Leon Russell!” LOL!

35 years ago in another time and place, everyone knew that version of “Beethoven”. And this morning, as I laugh to myself, it’s good to know, the Music Industries wheels are still in spin.

A Few Personal Stand Out Cuts For Me:

800 Dollar Shoes” –

I am now in love with this song. Just classic John/Taupin. The Chorus is gorgeous!
The song reminds me of only three others, “I’ve Seen That Movie Too”, “Roy Rogers” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, not bad company huh? - 5 Stars

The Best Part Of The Day

Classic John/Taupin. The opening Leon vocally inspired line is brilliant...”I hear you singin’ I Shall Be Released” like a chainsaw running through a masterpiece...” The Chorus is a melody I can’t stop singing, can’t get the melody out of my head. Leon’s vocals are brilliant. The words, sweet, prose. Lovely. I love the bridge, the words the melody, the shift....It is one of my favorite Elton John songs in 25 years. Maybe it’s not “Empty Garden” but God it’s damn close! – 5 Stars

Your My Kind Of Hell

First listen, immediate “Classic” Elton, “Wake Up Wendy” Part 2! Fun, and the lyrics are some of the best on the album. Fun stuff! This is the sound that I did not want to admit was missing from the album up to now, do yourself a favor and go get the deluxe disc it’s worth it JUST for this great track, and the dueling piano battle in the center, which reminds me of Daffy Duck and Donald in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”

After more than several listens there is a melody line and a sound that has been seeping into my consciousness and it finally hit me! The melody..."No I can't say i ever liked you much....but you're my kind of hell" then there's the ask yourself what IF ....we slightly slowed down "Elderberry Wine" - "No I can't help thinikin about the time....You were a wife of mine...." :) hmmmm. LOL!!!!!!!!! Is this a bow to a fan favorite after all these years? It has a great hook. Prefer it over “A Little Peace” from Peach Tree Road sessions. – 5 stars

Mandalay Again

“Back when we could throw a rope around the moon....” Has that great line, has a catchy melody. Very Pretty song.
Great lyrics. It reminds me of only one album session, “Blue Moves”. And so, I love it! It is “OLD” Elton John and Bernie Taupin. Simply Lovely. Touching lyrics. What “Return To Paradise” should always have been! – 5 stars

Jimmie Rodger’s Dream” –

I am not a fan of this style. “The Trails We Blaze”, “Captain and The Kid”, “The Drover” haven’t we had enough of it? Is it truly “Old” Elton or just country/folk? But I have to say after 10 listens, it has grown on me. I dunno, the song seems to be garnering its fans. It has my attention now, just maybe it’s not the strongest track on the album. – 3 1/2 stars.

There’s No Tomorrow” –

I absolutely love this song, if “ONLY” for the chorus. If only for the fact that Elton’s background vocals have guts and darkness. His voice works well here. I love the back and forth bluesy vocals of the chorus, the dark melody. Just Lovely! And Ms. Stone and Witherspoon and all are brilliant on backing vocals! Then there’s that tremendous guitar solo. It’s a deep but very interesting album cut. And could have easily been on “Madman Across The Water” right after “Rotten Peaches”. Sticks in my mind daily. – 5 stars

Oh, I give up, this album is a 5 star album! Just deeply rich, wonderfully produced, wonderfully written, perfectly recorded, and Leon and Elton together, I am not worthy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Outstanding guys! And thank you both for still caring and finding that passion still after 40 years!


Claude W. 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.

No comments: