Elton John: The Diving Board

Elton John released The Diving Board, his first solo album in seven years, back in September but I only recently bothered to listen to it and now I’m kicking myself for taking so long to hear this beautiful, masterful record. Elton is one of those artists I often take for granted, mostly because his public persona has overshadowed his music in the past decade. I almost always like his music – particularly his ’70s and ’90s releases – but for whatever reason never of him as a favorite artist. But that may change with this album. Produced by T Bone Burnett, The Diving Board finds Elton John making a welcome return to his musical roots with a basic piano-bass-drums set-up and features some of his finest piano playing in the past four decades.

While Elton John’s musical compositions and vocals are impressive and breathe life into this new song cycle, the album’s true backbone is Bernie Taupin’s substantial, poetic lyrics. As Brendan said when we first listened to the album, it’s a sadly rare album these days with lyrics that actually mean something.

Elton’s piano wizardry is especially spectacular in the fantastic, uptempo, piano pounding standout “Mexican Vacation (Kids in the Candlelight)” and the latter half of melancholy ballad “My Quicksand.”

The world weary first single, “Home Again,” is another major highlight and the reason I became interested in the album. You can watch the video for the track below.

Other tracks of note are the album’s jazzy title track and the festivally militant instrumental “Dream #3.”

But there’s really not a weak moment on the album and it’s positively addictive, we in the Muruch household love it more with each listen. The Diving Board already sounds like a classic and is a worthy release for the man behind “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “Levon” and “Tiny Dancer.”

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Elton John Official Site

The Civil Wars & T-Bone Burnett : A Place at the Table

You read that right. The soundtrack to the American hunger documentary, A Place at the Table, is a collaboration by The Civil Wars and T-Bone Burnett. And it’s every bit as magnificent as you want it to be. Especially of note is “Long Time Gone,” which you can hear below. The song beautifully marries The Civil Wars’ melodic country-folk sound with the thunderous Western rumble that has become T-Bone Burnett’s trademark. I do wish there were more vocal tracks like it, but the nature of the soundtrack demanded an overabundance of instrumentals.

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The Civil Wars Official Site

T-Bone Burnett Official Site

John Mellencamp: No Better Than This

John Mellencamp’s new album No Better Than This will be released August 17th on Rounder Records. Mellencamp wrote the album’s thirteen tracks in just thirteen days. Teaming up once again with producer T Bone Burnett (who also produced 2009’s brilliant Life Death Love and Freedom), Mellencamp used only one microphone and other vintage equipment to record the new songs at various historic Southern locations – including legendary Sun Studios. The result is an organic, lo-fi blend of blues, folk, country and rock.

“The West End” is the standout track with Mellencamp growling over a mix of simmering blues guitar and country clang.

“Right Behind Me” is another favorite with its swaggering Tin Pan Alley fiddle and strum.

And “A Graceful Fall” is a classic country barroom number worthy of ole Bad Blake – no surprise since producer T Bone Burnett also wrote the music for Crazy Heart.

If your perception of John Mellencamp’s music has been shaped by his commercial hits in the past, you need to hear the 21st century Mellencamp – particularly if you’re a fan of T Bone Burnett’s. Life Death Love and Freedom and No Better Than This are by far John Mellencamp’s finest albums.

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John (not yet available)

John Mellencamp Official Site