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6 Nov 2010

Question 6 To The Experts Committee: Elton John & Leon Russell's The Union

Hi there!!! Welcome to a new edition of the “Comittee of experts”, the sixth this time. The comittee was created one year ago, we have 18 experts from differents countries of the world (US, Canada, UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Holland, Italy, Spain, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina). And we have new experts for the comittee, that’s amazing, we’re growing, you see, dear Rabbit, we’re not alone.

The most important: we have the album out, we have the album on the charts, a lot of reviews have been published everywhere, and we had on this blogsite a prologue with four of a kind expertises. It seems now that “The Union” impact is done, the calm is down, now it’s our turn to discuss and review the album on the comittee. Why now? Well, we’ve been listening the album more than once (for sure), we have passed the first-time listening era, so it’s time to analyze different aspects of the record.

So welcome dear experts, welcome to the new members, 7 new members this time, 2 new countries. A joy to have you all here, Jack Rabbit will try that you feel comfortable talking, discussing and arguing (not fight, althought it’s Saturday) about “The Union”.

First, a general view on the album. What do you think about “The Union”? Who’s gonna start? Ok! Ok! One by one!!!

“The Union is fabulous for me! hearing Elton in new songs is always a great and delightful moment for an Eltonite”. Welcome Daga Lakomi, from Poland, so proud to have you here. Ana Ćup, new member from Serbia, agrees: “The Union is a great album”. Thanks so much for joinin’, Ana, really joyful for the comittee to have you. Daga Lakomi has it clear: “It is amazing that every Elton's composition is truly unique. And this time with Leon, who has a very funny and original voice, Elton has done it’s magical again. Their Union is a treasure for me!”

Now it’s turn for the greatest Richard Georgeou, from US: “After listening to the tracks for the first time my initial impression is: a 5 star product from Elton, Leon, Bernie, session musicians, back up vocalists, T-Bone Burnett. A master piece in my opinion. Elton has the creative juices flowing again thanks to the inspiration of his mentor/idol Leon Russell.” Yes, Thomas Wali, from Austria: “I really like the album. I think it is at least as good as Eltons last 3 records from the 2000s ("Songs From The Westcoast", "Peachtree Road" and "The Captain and the Kid"). What makes it more special than the other three is the high quality of production and the story behind the album and how it came together”. Thanks.

“I was lucky enough to receive my CD on Monday - one day ahead of the official US release. I was - and am - so excited. Let's just say that the pre-reviews (like Rolling Stone's 5 stars) got it right! It is such an amazing collaboration!”. Ahhh, that wonderful Kimberlee Kemble, from US too, thanks for being here too, as well as Richard and Thomas, of course. Anybody else?

“I am very impressed with "The Union". The vocals sound so great. Was not sure what to expect from Elton and Leon. But they came through with flying colors.” says Patrick Mcinnis, from US, a gentleman who kindly agrees to be part of the comittee. So she did my absolutely admired Vera Rio, from Brazil: “I'm really in a state of grace! Listening to tracks from "The Union" moved me to the "oldies" when a new work by Elton left me totally enchanted! I went to sleep and woke up with the songs in my mind and that was synonymous of a great start to the day for me. Now all that atmosphere is back (thanks God !!)”.

And Rabbit and I could not forget the fantastic italian cavaliere, Beppe Bonaventura, your thoughts dear friend: “Back to the roots! (T Bone Burnett and his team forever ...). The best album of Elton since the Seventies, a fantastic production by T Bone Burnett. The work of Burnett and his musicians, on this album, is really a masterpiece, a dream for me.”

“We all know that Elton heard Leon’s music in Africa on Davids iPod and then called Leon and asked if he is ready to make an album with him, although they didn't talk to each other for 35 years. Leon accepted the offer immediately and things started rolling” explains Thomas Wali about the concept idea of this project, while adding: “That's enough said about the short history how this came together”.

But not everyone is agree, and that’s the enrichment of our comittee: we are fans, but we could discuss Elton’s projects objectively. And that’s good to see, not everyone of us has to be agree: we are a big family!!! So I would like to thank you next expert, on the comittee since the beginning, always ready to be in, and a very clever people: thanks Ana Sousa, from Brazil: “As an Elton fan for over 30 years, I’m passionate about his work. When I buy an Elton John album, it’s him that I want to hear; no one else. So, after four years without any Elton new release, a duets album is not what I was looking forward to”. Most eltonites were surprised about this project really, that’s true. “Leon Russell is a musician that before The Union was totally unknown to me, except for the his name mentioned as one of Elton’s many influences. After listening to some snippets of his performances on youtube, I must confess I couldn’t get into his style of music, performance and especially his voice. I respect Elton for having chosen to do this album with Leon, someone he respects so much as a musician, but Leon’s just not my cup of tea. Music is very personal, it’s about feelings. It’s something you cannot be talked into. You either love or hate. Obviously many may have a different opinion, but I know I’m not the only one that share this feeling about Leon Russell and The Union.” Thanks so much, Ana.

Thomas Wali has another point of view:
“We are talking about two legendary composers, singers and piano players. Both of them wrote some of the most beautiful songs in the history of modern music. And both working together formed this perfect "union" and album. Moreover we have one of the best producers, T-Bone Burnett, of this time and legendary studio musicians and also one of the best lyricists, Bernie Taupin. Also a lot of guest stars, like Brian Wilson and Neil Young worked on it”.

Ana? “Elton's fan base had never been so polarized over an upcoming Elton John album. When Elton released an album there was always this feeling of excitement and anticipation shared by all the fans. With The Union this changed dramatically. The album totally split the community up in two groups: those that love this project and those that don't!”. Thanks too. There’s several eltonites that didn’t like the album, I have to tell. But hey, we are all eltonites at last!

Now, please, Richard Georgeou, could you read us your review song by song? That’s very helpful:

“There's no Tomorrow”: “This imo is a funeral dirge after the south went down in defeat. I close my eyes and see a procession with horse drawn coffin and people walking behind it with a bleak outlook. Homes destroyed, farms burned, soldiers wounded, the south's economy crippled”

“‎$800 dollar shoes”: “It could be about both Elton and Leon. Aging star, the posters are frayed, his youth and innocense long gone. Memories of the 70's when he ruled the music world”

“Hey Ahab” is clearly about Captain Ahab chasing the elusive dream (the white whale) Moby Dick. We all reach for the stars and some settle for the clouds. Great rocker, soulful backup vocals, strong piano work, T Bone Burnett on electric guitar, lyrics by Taupin. Best rocker for Elton in 3 decades. A+”

“The Best Part of The Day”: “It’s getting sober and enjoying nature, a return to the simple life. Elton enjoys seeing daybreak rather than sleeping til late afternoon. The best things in life are free. 'We shared our crazy ways in younger days'. This sums it up for...”

“When Love Is Dying”: We are usually the last to know. Love gone wrong. However, it is better to have loved and lost love, than to have never have loved at all is my philosophy. Pining away at what could have been. This applies to both Leon, Elton, and Bernie. Plus, everyone that has lost love. A+”

“I Should Have Sent Roses”: “I hear the song covered by Elvis and Willie Nelson, 'You Were Always On My Mind'. 'Maybe I didn't love you quite as much as I should have'. This led to you leaving me. The heart is a lonely hunter. A+”

“Gone to Shiloh”: “Without question American Civil War revisited. Vocals: Elton, Leon, and Neil Young. Civil War saga as Union Soldiers descend upon the city of Shiloh, Mississippi. “Heaven help the South / When Sherman comes their way”. I love this song. Both the studio version and Elton playing it live with piano intro”.

(silence), everybody’s listening the masterclass.

“Never Too Old”: “You are never too old to fall in love, hold somebody, we are nothing without someone to love and share our life with. Brilliant song. A tear jerker. A+”

“A Dream Come True”: “A haunting melody reminds me of Elvis Presley’s ‘Mystery Train’. Leon ‘s chance at redeeming his music career with the help of Elton’s influence. The music has brought him back Gonna have some fun And the blues are through”.

“The Hands of Angels”: “This one's for Leon who cheated death before going into the studio for this project. Brain surgey and convalescense. He considers he was saved for some purpose through the hands of angels. A”.

“Hearts have turned to stone”: “Leon wrote this, about his music career nearly going unnoticed, bringing on depression, forgotten, and looking for the sun to shine on him once again. A”.

“Monkey Suit”: “I envision John Dillinger, going down south with his 3 piece suit, shooting up the banks. A great upbeat song,one of his best in many years. Another Elton and Bernie classic. A+”

“If It Wasn’t For Bad It Would Be Good”: “Written by Leon Russell, he was disillusioned by the recording company, that failed him as an artist. He was treated like some vagabond musician, lacking promotional input to keep his career on course. A”.

“Jimmie Rodgers Dream”: “Written by: Elton John, Bernie Taupin, T Bone Burnett: Now I pop a top and stay up late with Gideon / And fall asleep to visions of Meridian - drinking beer, and reading the bible, Dreaming of Meridian, MS. Life on the train, heading west, and seeing the landscape. A big blue canvas painted by the Master's hand. A”.

(everybody’s clapping). Thanks so much, Richard. Experts: Your favourite songs from the album, then?

Thomas? “I really like all of the songs on this record, but there are some I like more. I couldn't tell you which song is the best.

My favorites (in random order) are:

Mandalay Again,
The Best Part Of The Day,
If It Wasn't For Bad,
In The Hands Of Angels,
Eight Hundred Dollar Shoes,
I Should Have Sent Roses,
When Love Is Dying.

It's not easy to choose my favs, because I really like all of them. Those are the songs I listen to the most”.

Ana Sousa, it’s your turn: “From the snippets I’ve listened to, the only songs that caught my attention were “Hey Ahab” and “Monkey Suit”, that coincidentally seems to be the only up-tempo songs on the album. “I Should’ve Sent Roses” is a typical Leon Russell song. Needless to say not what I would pick as one of my choices. “Never Too Old” and “Gone to Shiloh”, performed live by Elton are fine, but way too slow in my opinion. “Never Too Old” is repetitive and for this reason gets a little boring. “Gone to Shiloh” has a beautiful melody, which gets enhanced by Elton’s fabulous deep vocals. It reminds me of Lestat, with its dark mood. The live solo version is a treat for Elton’s fans, as on the album the vocals are shared with Leon and Neil Young. I listened to Gone to Shiloh performed by Elton in Taormina, Italy, and to this day he’s still able to impress me. Against all the odds, he gets better and better with age. He's passionate, powerful. And it was a live version, unpolished, raw, as what is without any studio production on.” Thanks so much, Ana.

Daga Lakomi adds her list:
“I love every song ... but I think that the most could be "The best part of the day" now ;):) but it might change because I hear all these new songs pretty often and I love each more and more:).

Others? Patrick? “The songs I love the best are "Hey Ahab", "The Best Part Of The Day", "When Love is Dying" and "Hearts Have Turned To Stone". I believe the lyrics are so good. Nice... to hear those great Bernie lyrics still sounds so good.” Yes? “It's great to hear new music from Elton, learn the lyrics, try to discover the story behind each one.” Oh, yes, Vera Rio!!! That’s amazing! Your favourites, then? “" Hey Ahab", "Monkey Suit "," Never Too Old (To Hold Somebody)", "The Hands Of Angels," "When Love is Dying," "Jimmie Rodgers 'Dream" immediately "glued" in my ears”.

Kimberlee? “There isn't a song that I don't like, but I especially like Going to Shiloh (very haunting piano line that I can't get out of my mind), Hey Ahab (classic EJ rock), Monkey Suit (fun!) and In the Hands of Angels (just beautiful). I've listened to it 3 times already - and will listen to it many more times in the coming days and weeks. I'm going to listen with headphones soon because I heard that EJ's piano is recorded on one track and Leon's on the other, and that it really comes through when you listen with headphones.” Hahahaha right!.

Beppe, yours?
“My favourite songs: “Gone To Shiloh”, “Hey Ahab”, “Hearts Have Turned to Stone”, but all the tracks are excellent. Less favourites? “The Best Part Of Day”, not a great song, without the production of Burnett, it seems a standard track from “The Big Picture””. Thanks. Yes, sorry Kimberlee, didn't see you: “I'd add "Mandalay Again" to my favorites list... I don't understand why it wasn't on the basic CD. Beautiful, beautiful song - and even my 15-year old daughter said she liked it - does that mean it could actually get airplay? I WISH!!! I really like the way that Elton's and Leon's voices blend in this song... most of the songs don't do that, they have Elton sing a verse and Leon sing a verse (which is very nice), but it's like a perfect fit on this song - their voices, their pianos, their styles... and Bernie's lyrics are amazing, too.”

And what could we say about Elton and Leon singin' together?

“Sir Elton is in good company: Leon is great, the backing vocals are wonderful (especially on "Hey Ahab" and "Monkey Suit")” starts Vera Rio. “Elton is singing better than ever on this record and Leon as well as he can. I'm one of the few Elton fans who really like Leons voice. I heard a lot of bad things about his voice from other fans, but I have to say that I love it!” continues Thomas Wali, and adds: “Eltons voice is perfect, as always. I think their voices fit and complement each other very well”. Beppe? “The mix of Elton and Leon, of the two pianos is really a surprise, Burnett is really one of the better producer of this era.” Ana? “I like many artists, different styles, like country music, but Leon's rendition/vocals, I just couldn't make them work for me”.

Thanks. Any comment about the non-involvement of any member of EJ in the studio sessions?

”It's a pity that none of the band members were involved, but it is not making the album worse” starts Thomas Wali. “If I was the producer, I would've "used" them as background vocalists or arrangers of backing vocals, as they really did an extraordinary job on earlier records and of course are still doing an AMAZING job at live concerts. I heard that they didn't know anything about what was going on at the time when Elton and Leon were in the studio, but Davey Johnstone got to listen to the whole album after the recording sessions. I think they will be playing some of the songs live on the tour together with Leon and at Elton and Band only shows”.

“The musicians are of the best quality (but I must confess that I'd love to hear Davey, Nigel, John, Bob and Kim playing and singing all these wonderful songs ... ok, I'm also a fan of the Elton's Band!)”, hahahaha thanks Vera! “I'd love to hear "When Love is Dying", "Hey Ahab" or "Best Part Of The Day" live with the band. I think that this is not unimaginably that they'll do one or two songs with Elton on tour”. Oh, who knows, Thomas?

“The band on the album is really fantastic (and live too!), Elton with these musicians is back to the top after all these years” disagrees Beppe: “Elton, please no more Johnstone on guitars! You need a real guitar player such Marc Ribot. And no more the terrible sound from electronic keyboards, the real Elton needs an acoustic sound of high level. The Beacon Theatre show was really a top act with top players, when I think to the standard Greatest Hits shows of the last years, with his old band, I have no words, only sadness”.

Oh, will be that a success?

”I don't only think that it will be a success, it is already a huge success in the USA. It stepped into Billboard 200 on #3 which is Eltons highest entry in the US-Charts since the Blue Moves album in 1976”, yes Thomas, that’s true. “I believe this is one cd that will be talked about for years to come. I will give it an A” follows Patrick McInnis, and Richard Georgeou bets: “I predict platinum record sales, a Grammy, and hopefully a follow up album from Elton and Leon. 'Thank God My Music's Still Alive'.......Bernie Taupin. Elton, and Leon are back at the pinnacle of the music world.” Hahahaha we are all expecting!

How well is received the album in your country?

Italy? “In Italy, great reviews about the album, and I hope a good place in the charts in the next days”. Thanks Beppe. Austria? “I heard and saw a lot of news in the radio and also in the TV and read some good articles and reviews in magazines and newspapers in Austria on "The Union", but it is not in the album charts yet. I hope that it will be very soon”. Yes, it is, recently it is. Brazil? “Here where I live the radios still aren't playing the new songs (but I'm working for this to happen soon! I'll send requests via web, of course!)”. Hahahaha, great Vera Rio.

“I live in southern Serbia, Kosovo province, I suppose you have heard of Kosovo”, yes Ana Ćup. “Everything related of Elton's new album, I gonna know it in mid-November, then I gonna go to Belgrade to buy the album. The only thing I know, a friend has informed me, is that the album just arrived in my country. Finally :o) I hope people will buy it. LOL It is strange of Elton's new album can be bought only in the Serbian capital Belgrade.” Oh, that’s sad, Ana, but you will have your album, sure!

Well, dear experts, we’re finishing. Thanks so much for your knowledge, your interest and your collaboration. Rabbit and me are extremely happy you joined to our list of experts. 26 now, is it right, Rabbit? Oh, no dear, not you,you’re not an expert ;-) How could we conclude everything we chat on? Your rates, Beppe?

“The album 8,5/10
Elton & Leon 9/10
The tracks 8/10
The production 10/10
The band 9,5/10”

“There's a smell of masterpiece in the air (the same feeling that I had when I heard "The Captain Fantastic ..." for the first time). My note for "The Union"? Of course, could only be 10! And with praise”. Thanks Vera Rio, agree with you.

“Anyway, a long-winded way of saying the album is FANTASTIC!!! And I really can't wait now until I go see Elton and Leon on November 20th and 21st!” oh, great Kimberlee.

Daga? “I would like to say THANK YOU Elton and Leon!!! You have done a wonderful job!!! I ask Elton for another new Album;) I want new songs haha”

Hahahahaha. I would love to announce you a new fan site, from Serbia. Ana Ćup has done a great job and needs all of our support. Right, Ana? “I have the fan page in order to collect as many members as I can and thus show the organizers of concerts in my country that Serbia is interested in another Elton's concert.”. Go for Serbia!!!!

Bye experts, since other time. Jack Rabbit would like to thank efusively and enthusiastically the collaboration of ours experts. Six reunions with this, and growing more and more. Eltonites’ voice must be heard! I am devoted to all of you:

The master expertises: Claude Bernardin, George Matlock, Liz Rosenthal, Jim Turano.

Experts: Midnight creeper (UK), Stephan Heimbecher (GE), Thomas Wali (AT), Paul Purcell (IR), Andrea Grasso, Beppe Bonaventura & Giorgio Aquilani (IT), Wim Greven (Holland), Ulrick Garde (DK), Anna Montras (SP), Patrick Andrey (SW), Laurent Bonnore (FR), Daga Lakomi (PL), Ana Ćup (SE), Richard Antoine & Shea Forster-Helms (CA), Richard Georgeou, Patrick McInnis, Jack Suslak, Missy Gyms & Karen Rooney (US), Silvines Palmer & Isabel González (AR), Kissybissy, Vera Rio & Your Song (BR), Patty Perrin (MX).

If other eltonites are interested in being part of the comittee, or wanted that their country must be heard, just mail me. Eltonites around the world, join us: without you, me and Rabbit are nothing.

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