Elton John needs no introduction. In his four-decade career John has sold more than 250 million records, had more than 50 Top 40 hits, won five Grammy awards, an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award and a Tony Award. Now releasing his thirtieth (yes thirtieth!) album, talking about his collaboration with legend Leon Russell, Elton states 'I don't have to make pop records anymore.' True enough, Elton proves on this album why he is still around making music with such vindication.
The album kicks off with If it Wasn't for Bad, a gentle track that strolls along with jazzy influences - the best analogy to describe this track would be a melancholic cocktail party. Elton continues in this quite bitter tone throughout the album, especially with Gone to Shiloh, which really does highlight the perfect union between John and Russell. Tragic and haunting, Shiloh is reminiscent of a late Johnny Cash as the two men stand 'shoulder by shoulder, side by side'.
Russell's country-folk influences are definitely evident here. Elton turns to blues in Eight Hundred Dollar Shoes, where there is a great combination of the epic and the simple as they are able to successfully combine a very early Elton sound with blues influences. Similarly, Jimmy Rodgers' Dream, as the title suggests, is a very 60s Americana country western track that you would probably expect to hear on the Brokeback Mountain Soundtrack. But this doesn't mean that Leon Russell dominates the record. In There's No Tomorrow, the signature 'Elton' sound returns with conviction with a nice guitar solo in tow that is a highlight of the entire LP. Similarly Hey Ahab, by far the best track off the album, allows Elton to show off his piano techniques whilst creating a very seductive and flirtatious single. The use of a gospel choir is also a nice touch too.
One cannot criticise Elton or Russell. Although many of the tracks sound quite similar and thus becomes quite monotonous after a while; this is Elton John we are talking about. After 40 years in the business, he is able to still keep fresh and create some great music. Using various techniques to transgress across music genres and attempting to still seem relevant, it is obvious that Elton is far from laying his piano to rest.