Cratedigger: Elton John, “Tumbleweed Connection”
Do you ever buy something used and wonder about the life of that thing before it came into your possession? I like to think about such things sometimes. The reason I bring it up here is that the album I’m writing about today was apparently once owned by someone named Barb Follett. You can see her name printed in pencil on the label. I can’t help thinking about Barb. Who is she? Where is she? When and why did she sell this album? Barb, if you’re out there, let me hear from you!
I didn’t like Tumbleweed Connection much when it first came out. It wasn’t like Elton John’s self-titled first U.S. album (his actual first album, Empty Sky, wasn’t released in the U.S. until 1975). It had more of a country rock feel. Sure, there were songs that harkened back to that first album, particularly the ethereal acoustic songs “Come Down In Time,” and “Love Song,” but mostly it seemed to be an attempt to cash in on what the Band started with Music From Big Pink, and it just didn’t work for me.
My, how things can change. It wasn’t until more than 30 years later, after hearing the epic track “My Father’s Gun” on the radio, that I began to reconsider Tumbleweed Connection. I went back for another listen. First of all, I was struck by how well this album holds up. It still sounds as fresh as the day it was released, and time has treated this music very well. The production by Gus Dudgeon, and the arrangements by Paul Buckmaster are first rate. In 1970, the Americana movement was just beginning in this country. In other words, Tumbleweed Connection was an album ahead of its time, but it’s very much of our time.
The thing that Elton John adds to the genre, in addition to his great songwriting with Bernie Taupin, is the element of soul. His still under appreciated voice brings gospel soul to even the most country songs. Listen to “Son of My Father,” and “Country Comfort.” There’s the moving ballad “Talking Old Soldiers,” and the funky “Amoreena. Just as side one closes with the epic Civil War tale “My Father’s Gun,” side two ends with its perfect partner, “Burn Down the Mission.”
Tumbleweed Connection has become my favorite Elton John album, which surprises me given my distaste for it when it was released. This music, however, is undeniable, and I happily admit that my original assessment was faulty.