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20 Sept 2013

The Master Expertises (I): Claude Bernardin

Piano Man, He Makes His Stand: - Review by , Claude W. Bernardin, ( Co-Author of “Rocket Man: The Music Of Elton John A to Z”, 9/15/13.) 

At the start of this new studio album, Elton John said: “I had to go back and listen to all the old albums. Because in order to go forward, I have to go back…” These days we have a dilemma with any new Elton John studio album. We find ourselves caught in a game of let’s compare. Let’s face it, the guy’s output in the early 1970’s was simply staggering. So inevitably someone will say, “Well compared to – Madman, or Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, or Captain…”, Yeah, yeah, yeah… been there, done that myself, but was it ever fair? Every rock star/musician is entitled to have their peak moment, once! And so what’s it to you that it happened to be in his young years? I have been a fan since the moment I heard “Border Song” off the Elton John album in September of 1970. It’s been a hell of a road….remaining a fan, 1976, “Blue Moves”, The revelations in the press of his Bi-sexuality, His music being banned on radio in 1977, “Ego” and Tom Bell, The incredibly ill-fated “Victim Of Love”, The return to form on stage with Ray Cooper in 1979, “Little Jeannie” recapturing the charts, The mishandling of “the Fox”, The Tremendously Commercial re-emergence of the David Geffen years of the Mid-1980’s starting with “Blue Eyes”, “Empty Garden”, “I’m Still Standing”, “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues”. Then came the darker career abandonment, of the late 1980’s….His obvious addictions getting in the way, the slow slide to mediocre musical product like 1985’s “Ice On Fire” and 1986’s, “Leather Jackets”. Up and Down he’d go…one minute crash landing, the next picking up the pieces, dusting himself off, still standing tall. Don’t get me wrong, each album had its fair share of pop fluff, and sometimes a gem or two….”Cold As Christmas”, “Nikita”, “Cry To Heaven”, “Paris”, “The One”, “Something About The Way You Looked Tonight”. And of course His third career coming in 1994 with a whole new Generation, we like to call “The Lion King Kids”. It has been an amazing career to witness, full of drama, pit falls and dizzy, glittering heights. 

So back to our original dilemma, how does one compare New Product from Elton with his back catalog…easy, one just doesn’t! You can’t take music from one generation and balance it against another almost four decades later. That’s just absurd. They are different men, different musicians, different thinkers, even their writing styles have changed. And I will make the case, all for the better. It’s not that I wish to diminish the Past, as much as I think it’s time we put it to rest. Yes, that was lovely, the 1970’s music was brilliant, it was glittery, it was special, it was a “Purple Period”, ( and for those who were alive and along for that Meteoric rise to The Halls of Kings… was “OURS”. But times change, years fly by, things happen, people change. I believe Elton has matured, and yet I wonder have his fans? We want him to be happy and swinging a walking stick singing in a high falsetto, “I’m still standing…looking better than I ever did…” or singing, “La, La La La La La…” forever. But a true Artist must grow. 

What we have today is something altogether new, yet certainly friendly and familiar, like being reunited with an old high school buddy. Perhaps a little older, a little road weary, a little jaded, but anyone alive in 1971, can easily see the chrome and shine behind all that lovely tarnish. The Elton John of today is a survivor, a talent to be reckoned with, and a golden Icon dulled with scars and years of patina. But the music lives on, and it is glorious! 

So let’s get the Grade out of the way for the fan who hates wading through my superlatives and tedious murmurings….This album is a solid A. 4 ½ to 5 star affair. Is it Yellow Brick Road? Nope…’s something “DIFFERENT” and different is ok, in-fact different is beautiful, creative….sensitive and sophisticated. Is it perfect? Nope, let’s get the criticism out of the way: Missing is a track as tough as nails ballsy as “Amoreena”. Missing in action: A country-hayseed up-tempo “Wake Up Wendy” meets “Birds" meets Leon Russell track. Missing : An 8 minute Epic track in the vein of Funeral/Love Lies Bleeding or Have Mercy On The Criminal or Ticking. IF and I do say IF I was a talking fly on the wall at this session I’d have burned T-Bones Ear big time about it ! But those are “Fans” needs. What did Elton need during this session? We have that answer in our hands. 

A Caution to the fans, You had to have lived this life from August/September 1970 – now to completely understand The Big Picture, otherwise it’s kind of like walking in to a movie when it’s half over and at the end saying: “I didn’t like it…I didn’t get it..” , Exactly!!!!!!!!! 

This album is a Career milestone. A Bench mark. As Taupin has so aptly said: “One for the ages…”. There was another in his earlier career, and in fact to be fair there were several….Tumbleweed Connection, Madman Across The Water, Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and Captain Fantastic. Ooops hold on! Hold on! Stop the typing…..wasn’t there another, more subtle work, way ahead of its time, that fans and critics alike dismissed as Slow, boring, noncommercial, yet ten and twenty years later, those same people were hailing as a masterpiece? Yes, I am referring to 1976’s “Blue Moves”. Look if you claim to be an Elton John fan and you can’t accept nor recognize “Tonight”, “Sorry Seems To Be…”, “Cage the Songbird”, “Someone’s Final Song”, “Crazy water” and “Chameleon” as brilliant Elton John tracks, well then maybe you should try David Bowie or James Taylor. 

Now, Yellow Brick Road was brilliant…but so was Blue Moves. In-fact I am one who feels it’s perfect, all bumps, bruises, scars, heights and valleys. I love what it is, and what that is ….is pure Artistic Freedom and expression. Just words and a tune….but GOOD words, and Good tunes. And that my friend is exactly what “The Diving Board” is today. It is not a bookend to 1971….it IS a bookend to 1976! The moment Both lyricist and Musician, walked away from the screams and halls of Rock N Roll Fame, off into some deep dark recess of personal angst, pain and regrets. A lot of crap piled far too high for far too many years, and once the dust settled back down….many important changes and decisions had to be made. To expect after such an Historic Career, that these same two individuals would ever rise back up from those ashes to still prove they are on their A Game, was a task I sometimes had to ask my own self as a fan, “was it possible?” I knew my answer…..”Yes! If there was anyone ANYONE in Rock Music capable, it would be these two guys…!!!! But it would take Monstrous Effort, and Elton’s determination and passion to do it. By the mid to late 90’s, as a fan, I began to question and doubt this would ever be possible. The Music and words were just too erratic in their quality. For me the moment of change was “Made In England”. But the next album took us into an abyss of a slide back downward. “The Big Picture” ( for me ) was one of the coldest sounding, lack luster studio efforts I had ever heard. It had it’s gems, ( “Wicked Dreams”, the title cut, “Loves got a lot to answer for” and more ), but over all lacking Piano, lacking energy. Lacking fire. ) 

Thank God both climbed back up from the rubble, when that house fell down, and caught a thundering train heading to the West Coast. In 2001, John and Taupin’s careers seemed to have a renewed gusto, a new passion for all things songwriting. From the Brilliant “Songs From The West Coast” through “Peach Tree Rd. “ and “The Captain And The Kid” and “The Union”….they have stayed the course…..has the machine faltered or sputtered on the tracks? Yes, a few times along the way, but mostly, the quality has been solid, the effort its equal. And all this hard work, eventually paired them with their own Idol Leon Russell for a return to the top of the Pop charts in 2009/2010 with “The Union.” In my honest estimation, I was convinced this would be the end, they’d done it, we got there at least….be proud for them….and accept the end will come for us. But still, there was that little twinkle of hope….fluttering down inside of me….”Wait!!! Did he just say…..I honestly don’t know what the fans are all so excited about, I can write better songs!!!”? I heard it, during a Union interview….I heard it….and I was saying to myself and anyone who’d listen…did you hear that? He said…..and then I’d add, “Ya gotta love him…..he’s just possibly gifted and bull headed enough to believe himself! LOL” Well, I heard it, but put the notion aside. 

Another point I took note of, we shared an utter fascination for the reemergence of Bob Dylan in his Epic release, Modern Times. I recall posting about this, myself and another fan Richard Georgeou. If it had not been for Richard’s astute musical tastes I’d have probably missed the Dylan record completely. So 2006/2007 I filled my head and Internet with the thoughts of …”Why…Oh, why Can’t our Dear Elton John see the light? Why can’t he do something this creative and artistically deep? Why must it always be Springsteen, Young, Clapton or Dylan….Why? Why?” And then every now and again as the years progressed, I’d still hear Elton saying in interviews for each consecutive album….”Well it all started with that amazing Bob Dylan album…Modern Times…I thought if he could do it, why can’t Elton ? “ 

Well, Great works of Art…true Masterpieces…..can sometimes take awhile. And so I’m happy to announce : “You Did It Elton and Bernie !” Congratulations!!!!!!!!!!!!

So can we compare the past with the present?, no – not really, but what we can do is be fair….and recognize that yes, a career CAN have its pitfalls, road stops, bumps and bruises, and one day just maybe one day, all those dings and dents can be re-evaulated and blended into something new. In 1976 Elton John and Bernie Taupin stepped off of land, and fell into a great ocean of self-doubts, musical plundering, and terrible personal obstacles. But like a great prize-fighter, they had the nerve NOT to fall down at the bell. They continued standing, sometimes faltering, and now, now after 37 years, they have returned to the exact spot they left off, musically, lyrically, emotionally. On 1976’s “Blue Moves” there is a wonderful Gus Dudgeon Produced masterpiece of a song called “Crazywater”, it perfectly describes what this songwriting team must have been facing, and had to wade through for the next 3 decades. 

“The Diving Board” now clearly, FIRMLY re-establishes this songwriting team as one of the Greatest Modern achievements of Pop Culture and Rock Music History. Yes, there “WAS” a Lennon and McCartney”, yes, there was a Rogers and Hammerstein, AND yes there will always be a John and Taupin. 

Please do not assume I am throwing words carelessly to the wind as I state all of this. I have listened, I have had chills, I have been stunned, and fallen in love all over again with everything John and Taupin due to the release of this brilliant record. But Great things don’t often taste or smell or sound the same. 

An Ice Cold Coke is not the same as a great chilled, aged bottle of wine straight from the French vineyards, one must mature and expand their tastes to appreciate it. I challenge the fans who do not like this album to listen to other forms of music for awhile. Get away from the Pop and Fizz of “Greatest Hits 1” and “Too Low For Zero”. Kick back and experience the history and earth of a true Legend. 

But to go forward still, we should put to rest a few minor details: 

1. Elton WAS a Pop Music Icon, he doesn’t have to go there anymore 

2. Pop Music was his life and times, but so were many other forms of music and styles. Too often they got neglected for that glittery star of fame and fortune. Pop! Fizzzzzzzz!

3. America has many roots, and it’s musical roots can be found in the songs of the 1800’s by Stephen Foster, or the Honky Tonks of New Orleans, The Classical piano of Blind Tom, the Marching Band Music of John Phillip Sousa, the rasps and howls and hoots and snarls of Ray Charles, the Blues of Willie Horton and the Gospel of Mahaliah Jackson. The country of Hank Snow and Jim Reeves, the Rock of Elvis and Little Richard, the Broadway of George M. Cohan, the Jazz of Louise Armstrong and Dr. John and even the snarls and wisps of Leon Russell. Even the sing song melodies of plaintive Civil War ballads, or the quaint folk ancestral folk tunes of England, Ireland, and many other countries of our immigrant descendants. This is the History of Great American Songwriters and musicians. And this IS the music of “The Diving Board”. 

4. Is Elton John a piano player? Yes, so wasn’t it about time to “FEATURE” that? Had we not had enough “Band” centered albums? I say yes. 

5. Elton is a Pop Star, a Fantastic Live Act, a Musician, a Band Leader, An Aids Activist, An Idol to many, but what he mostly is, when you pull back the curtain and actually peak behind stage, is a Singer/Songwriter. Equal with the likes of his Musical Generation. When this crazy career began in 1970, he landed in LA, California at the Peak and heart of the Golden Age of the singer/songwriter movement. A Guy ( or girl) with a voice, some good words, and an instrument. Dylan was probably the King of this movement, Next perhaps, Lennon or McCartney, and then an amalgamation of talents from Joni Mitchell, James Taylor to Jim Croce, Cat Stevens, David Bowie, Neil Young, Graham Nash, Bruce Springsteen, Harry Chapin, Steve Winwood, Rod Stewart, Leon Russell, Brian Wilson, Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond, David Ackles, Tom Waits and so many others. These singers, featured their instrument, and featured their lyrics and stories. Usually presented with a vocal performance worthy of the character they were presenting to us. Modern Theatre. Elton John was “THE MOST SUCCESSFUL SINGER SONGWRITER” of that era. But his fame and success was also always his ball and chain. Forced to always stream line his studio albums with pop fluff rather than substance. Forced to have not one, but two or three hit singles. And here’s the funny thing, ALWAYS delivering the goods! When most of his counter parts long ago abandoned the road to success because truthfully it was much too difficult a journey for them. So for me it is very fitting that “Our” road weary warrior has finally…found his way “Back home again….as he so aptly laments in “Home Again”. 

6. Today Elton John is a rock musician, he writes thematically as well. He writes in many styles, The Musical Theatre thing, rock music, pop music, the ballad…country, blues….you should expect it all!

Track by track:
1. Oceans Away – A+, 5 stars A Classic Elton ballad. Lyrically a tribute to the WWII Generation. His Music is the perfect counter balance to a rather dark, sad lyric from Bernie. In the end the two melt into a beautiful and heartfelt tribute to a passing era, and they do it with the utmost class. What some may have failed to notice, it is their Modern Times version of 1970’s “Sixty Years On”. Same sentiments, same sadness, same class. Shades of Old English Folk Tunes, shades of Old Civil War singsongs ballads, shades if immigrant folk tunes from Ireland and the UK….History reads all over the track, and it is ageless. One of the best openers for ANY album in his career. I actually had tears in my eyes reflecting upon my own Grandmother and Father and Uncles, now all passed. All who fought and stood strong for Great Nations and World peace. Every album has a classic Elton Ballad, this is certainly that. And my second favorite song on the album. Taupin in A+ lyrical form, sad but poetic. This is not your Norman Rockwell view of World War Ii, but rather a sobering, heartfelt tribute to Taupin’s own Father and his passing Generation. The title is a play, in words…The phrase was more commonly spelled “Ocean’s Aweigh” but one is reminded of their passing…in the more common use, “Oceans Away”. Elton’s vocal performance is honest and lovely. And the piano? The piano! The piano! Thank you for “The piano!” Love the middle Minor Key bit, in the middle, Classic Elton. Lyrics: A+ ( some of Taupins best ), Piano : A+, Vocal: A+, Melody: A+
2. Oscar Wilde Gets Out – A+, 5 stars A dark mysterious rocker, that shows Bernie Taupin sharing metaphoric images with a mean, nasty Chorus. Elton is always great when he’s sounding a bit pissed off! The chorus is killer on this track. But it’s his piano playing that shines. The “Tubular Bells” theme throughout carries the song through to its chanting end. We haven’t heard this Elton much over the past few years, this is Elton from 1973, Yellow Brick Road days. If you removed “Alice” and inserted this, it would fit perfectly. Mature, fantastic rock, and the 2 cellos add so much to counter the eventually very cool piano riff. A Lovely song that says quite a lot. Apparently the first song written, and recorded for the album. If I had my way, I’d demand the ending become a lengthier dark piano jam out. Who knows maybe it will grow live and become just this. But for me, this song comes VERY close to classic album cut! It’s in my top five on the album. And wonderful to hear again. A stellar performance. Without the lyrics, I am assuming we are pondering what Oscar Wilde must have faced and gone through, and contrasting this to Elton John? Frankly the song is so good I don’t even care what it is about . Vocally some of the best vocals I’ve heard from Elton in decades. His raspy low vocals shine all over the track, but it is in the dark chorus that they blaze. Piano : A+, Vocal – A, Lyric – A, Melody – A+.
3. A Town Called Jubilee In a song called “Tumbleweed” !!! Takes me right back to 1971. Piano is superb. Guitar is efficient and fine as an accent. Overall score : B+/A – Not “Amoreena”, but still very listenable.
4. The Ballad of Blind Tom By track 4, I’m convinced we are on a new ride, one we haven’t been on in decades! The piano kicks in, and I had to stop it, and rerun it ten times! I did the same thing with Bob Dylans brilliant “Thunder On The Mountain” on “Modern Times”. Elton beat the track, it’s JUST AMAZING!!! Only one song comes to mind right away, “The Ballad of Danny Bailey”. The song is slowly growing as my favorite on the album. And how much do I love how Elton says : “Oh, Yea!” in the middle of that cool piano riff? A Solid A+!!!! Classic Elton. Vocal is superb. Melody is outstanding. Piano is Outstanding. Lyrics are outstanding. Another tongue in cheek reference of metaphor…..Elton LIKE Blind Tom, Past repeats itself. The song gives me chills, good chills. I suppose you could say it’s my new fever waltz!
5. Dream #1 A short, pretty, piano musical interlude with classical overtones. Meant as a kind of musical intermission to this new Cinematic Masterpiece. And I love how it leads right into the next track. Very solid way to move the album forward and also to help lead us into a change up style wise. Intelligent pacing and formatting. One small WISH: or is that Dream #4? Why didn’t you include that awesome boogie woogie piano you played on the piano on Leon’s porch in your “Making of the Union Documentary ? You could have used a bit of Honky Tonk on this album. Grade: A. Lovely.
6. My Quicksand Totally new in the arsenal of melody, comes a quirky, but lovely, mysterious track. Some I suppose will feel a letdown or say it slows the album down, that is why we had the interlude before it, mood change coming! I love that the album shifts from what was “Classic Elton John” and slides into a slower, jazz influenced feel. This song grabbed me immediately! It’s haunting. I can’t get the dam melody out of my head. And the middle piano solo? It is lovely, and ok you don’t like the song….name me a solo that’s better from Elton on the last ten studio albums. Did anyone catch the recurring “Home Again” theme throughout? Did anyone catch the classical music referencing of Edvard Grieg’s “Hall Of The Mountain Kings”? And by the way FANS, did anyone recall it was a bow to his past with Ray Cooper. ( See: Moscow, 1979 – during his performance intro – to “Bennie and The Jets”). Lyrically the song is all Taupin, interesting, cerebral, and unsteady. Musically it’s the songs perfect match, I get what Elton was going for…a sort of musical uneasiness, off-balance…as if to suggest the eeriness of not having solid ground to stand firmly on. Just to hear the opening notes of his first true jazz solo ever on record, was an amazing treat for me, and he nails the solo. It’s a stand out track for me…is it a hit? Of course not, thank God! What? You needed another “Daniel”? Totally new ground here….and he proves he was up for the challenge. Is there a bit of Theatrics/Broadway here? Of course, and I think its inclusion enlivens the album. We got Classic Elton earlier, now we have this. Something different. The songs mood has an old 1940’s blues style calling up the darker songs of Billie Holiday ( “Strange Fruit” ). And it is that specific Soulful Echo I find so hauntingly lovely. To hear Elton doing this style, is amazing and wonderful. Is it rock or Pop? Probably not…thank God! But is lovely right down to the last notes he lightly touches on the songs fade out. Vocally: A, Melody: A, Piano : A, Lyrics: B+/A-
7. Can’t Stand Alone Tonight My least favorite song on the album. I get it, it’s the light-hearted Country single, but it truly sounds like a track off of 21 at 33. I’m not a big fan of this style in Elton. He wants a country hit, but I think he needs a more modern country ( Chesney) approach to it. “How’s Tomorrow” from the recent past, works much better in this same format. I do like the line….”Things have to change, and they might”. It’s harmless, but pointless. I’d have dropped it and added “5th Avenue”. Leaving it as a B Side or outtake.
8. The Voyeur My Favorite track on the album! I don’t even know what to say about this song….it’s just absolutely “CLASSIC ELTON JOHN”! A beautiful ballad that harkens back to 1972’s “Mona Lisa’s and Mad Hatters”. It is without a doubt ( for me ) the best song this pair has written since 1976’s “Blue Moves”. If I compare songs, I’m challenged only by the best of the best, ( “The One”, “Empty Garden”, “Cold As Christmas”, “Tonight”, “Someone Saved” good ). Now what is it? It is a combination of “Rocket Man” from his live shows, “Tinderbox” from The Captain and the Kid, “I Wouldn’t have you any other way” from the Captain and the Kid, and 1988’s “Japanese Hands”. Throw it all in a blender and ya got one of the best songs of his career. He hooked me on this track, I’m done …this album is just lovely! The opening verse has Elton presenting his best vocal on an Elton John song since 1976. And that fact isn’t even arguable! And the piano? Holy God!!!!!!!!!! Guys I go to “Your Song” here….I go “Rocket Man”, I go to the best of the best. Love the bass, and tambourine accompany. All you need, nothing more, and the cello arrangement works as well. Love the break in the song, Love the chorus…”and in every secret rendezvous where elicit lovers are!” Piano: A+, Cellos: A+, Vocals : A+, Melody : A+, Lyrics: A+ ( and maybe the best on the album ).
9. Home Again Two In A Row?!!!!! Classic Elton John ballad again! One song comes to mind right away, 2009’s “Gone Shiloh”, but there is another more subtle one. It’s hidden in the background of the cellos, 1970’s “Your Song”. Now let’s go back for a second, “Your Song” and “Gone To Shiloh”? And you question if the song is any good? Please! No wonder it’s already Showing up as an instant concert encore number. The middle part is fantastic. The piano break is classic old 1970’s Elton. The song lyrically refers to the age of the singer songwriter movement of 1969 – 1971. How almost every song back then was about a country road: The Long and Winding Road, Get Back, Homeward Bound, Country Comfort, Country Road, and so on. The title is probably Taupin’s bow to Tumbleweed Connection: “Country Comfort’s any truck that’s going “Back Home”, ( Again! ). And they do it beautifully. Piano: A+, Vocal: A+, Melody: A+, Lyrics : B+/A- ( sometimes they are a bit clunky ) 

10. Take This Dirty Water Old Gospel Elton John ( Border Song, Madman, and Pilot ), 1970 era comes to mind immediately. So who is the inspiration for this track? Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Mahalia Jackson for sure, but possibly as well, Laura Nyro, another singer songwriter from the era, who Elton adored, and in-fact visited for the great build up piano of “Burn Down The Mission” on 1971’s Tumbleweed Connection. Her songs “And When I Die” and “Eli’s Coming” were huge influences. Elton recently mentioned this on The Elvis Costello TV show Influences. Each time I hear this song I like it more. It’s that Old bluesy Elton, What “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues” wishes it could be. Love the background singers. It could have fit on any album pre-1973. And “Too Low” fans …um “Religion” or this? Not close! Melody: A-, Piano: A, Lyrics: B+, Vocal: A- 

11. Dream #2 The Next musical interlude. Again a perfect, pensive break from the album, time contemplate all moods and sounds, a perfect respite. B+ 

12. New Fever Waltz I’m not big on waltz songs. But this song is lovely! The New Orleans brass just grabs me. The words are classic Image laden Taupin. The cellos, are wonderful. American Waltz originated in Boston in the 1830’s. A romantic, more artistically free style dancing than that of its European form. Today it is still a popular dance at American Country functions. The song seems musically to be a bow to style changes of Bob Dylan’s “Modern Times”. Like Dylan’s album, the songs run the gambit and fly in and out of changes. From ballad to rocker and so on. At first not one of my favorites, it has now been added to my playlist as a pretty track. It’s melody effortlessly glides along Taupin’s lovely words. And Taupin’s lyric evoke an entirely different era of time and place. If any time I want to wonder what the 1890’s felt like musically, I can certainly turn to this number. Will it be a barn-stormer musically in the catalog of Elton John, of course not, but still after getting 3 classic Elton ballads and 2 classic Elton rockers did we need another one of those either? A good change up for me, something different. Piano: A, Brass Arrangement: A+, Lyrics: A, Vocal: A, Melody: B+ - The Chorus is Lovely! The Cellos: A+ 

13. Mexican Vacation Classic New Orleans Blues, and ya gotta love the Snarling Black Vocals Elton applies to it. Ok it’s “Monkey Suit” meets “Wasteland”, but shhh let’s not tell him. It’s grown on me, at first, the live version, did nothing for me for some reason, but the effort here is obvious and it adds a great spark to it. I love the effort on piano at the end! Love it! Piano: A+, Vocal : A+, Lyrics: B+, Melody: A- 

14. Dream # 3 The best of the instrumental interludes, very fun, lovely piano, and it works as a break once again to lead us into the feel of the next switch up. I do love the pace of this album. The interludes really help set your mind in the right place. Anyone hear “Sixty Years On” in his piano on it? I don’t think that was by accident. 

15. The Diving Board Vocally this one threw me for a loop! Two listens later, I couldn’t get the darn melody out of my head, especially…”Those dizzy heights!! And the view from the Diving Board”. It’s just a fantastic track. And Elton’s voice fits this style perfectly. The New Orleans Jazz Band takes me to places I’ve never been with Elton’s music, and places I’ve wanted him to go for decades. Ray Charles would have absolutely loved this song! This is so great to see Elton welcome in such rich American music. I have not had time to digest this track enough, how could I? Too many other great tracks on here. But I can tell you this, it’s moving up the list as one of my favorite songs….on this album. A great album cut. How good is it? Better than “When Love Is Dying” and “This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore” and “Blue Eyes” and that just blows me away! Vocal: A+, Piano: A, Brass Arrangement: A+, Melody: A, Lyrics: A+ 

16. 5th Avenue I’ve heard comparisons to “I Want Love” and “Burning Buildings”, yeah, I guess I hear it, but it’s the same guy who wrote those. He’s allowed to borrow from himself…and ever wonder it just might happen unconsciously? I’ve fallen head over heels in love with this song. Love the way it builds up, the chorus is Killer! Classic Elton chorus here. One of my favorite tracks from these sessions. Also love the piano break. For some reason I think of “Love Sick” a song I’ve always been found of. It’s got me back to 1976 or 1977 Elton, and I’m so happy I’m thinking back there musically. Is the song about Bernie visiting New York and reflecting on the loss of John Lennon? I don’t know…I think not due to the line…I saw your old man on the news…who is it? A Mystery to me, but I don’t care, the song works and works well. Vocal: A+, Melody: A+, Lyrics: B+, Piano: A.

17. Candlelit Bedroom Not one of my favorite songs. Glad it was left off. However consider this, originally it was to have been included. And if we had received that initial album, would it have garnered such glowing reviews? I think not. He was wise to go back in and write some more songs. And what a day in the Books of History that must have been, written on one day….Voyeur, Home Again, and Ocean’s Away. WOW!
In summation is it a Band album? No. And far time he went in to a studio JUST for Elton John and his fans. I can get Elton’s songs down to four things, Voice, Melody, Piano and Words. If all four are there, we got all we need. Thank You Elton, so very much for still caring and having the passion. You too Mr. Taupin, you words were astounding on this project. I need a few months to digest it all, I’m still stuck on tracks 1 – 4. In my book, this album is a Masterwork…on par with “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and “Blue Moves”, and worthy of much debate and much listening before a truly accurate review can be written. One thing can be said: This is music that IS sophisticated, intelligent, and more mature than Rock should be or rarely dares to be. I have yet to hear a singer songwriter out do 1976’s “Tonight” on “Blue Moves”, but if I were to roll the songs up in to one collective whole from this album, You come closest than anyone has dared try, in the last 37 years. Amen to the both of you!
“I Lu-u-uv You…..Yes I do! 

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.

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