Cratedigger: Elton John, “Tumbleweed Connection”

Elton John - Tumbleweed ConnectionDo 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.

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  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    I think a lot of people dismissed Tumbleweed Connection the first time around, given that the only song to make inroads on the charts was “Country Comfort.” It is a minor masterpiece and, albeit righly shadowed by Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, shows the versatility of both the writer and performer.

    While the American Americana crew was trying to wring the pathos out of the modern South's relationship with its past, or just raisin' the rebel flag and some Hell alongside it, it took two guys from England to go straight for the myth of the West and deliver it so thoughtfully.

  • MichaelFortes

    The image link is coming up broken for me…

  • http://www.kenshane.com kshane

    It's working fine for me. Maybe try clearing your cache?

  • MichaelFortes

    It's working now. Oy.

  • sophievernon

    Hi! I’m researching the influence of music blogs for my dissertation. If you are reading this blog I would really appreciate it if you could fill in this very short questionnaire.

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  • http://robertcashill.blogspot.com BobCashill

    “Amoreena” gets DOG DAY AFTERNOON off to a good start.

  • http://www.kenshane.com kshane

    Good callback Bob. I'd totally forgotten that.

  • Rebecca

    I had a similar experience with this album. I was collecting all EJ on vinyl and gave it a quick listen and wrote it off, despite a glowing recommendation from a friend. It wasn't until I had moved to a new town and set up a new stereo that I started listening to vinyl again. I put Tumbleweed for a test run and was just floored by it. It may be that many of its charms are so understated that it just takes a certain state of mind. Moving a few hundred miles worked for me.

  • Old_Davy

    “Where To Now, St. Peter?” might be his most underrated song ever. I was a big EJ fan since “Your Song”, but like many of you, Tumbleweed Connection didn't connect with me until many years later. But boy, when it did connect…!

    If you compare it to the Elton John album, there is a tremendous growth spurt in terms of the maturity of the material. It's probably EJ's most grown-up album ever.

  • Old_Davy

    “Where To Now, St. Peter?” might be his most underrated song ever. I was a big EJ fan since “Your Song”, but like many of you, Tumbleweed Connection didn't connect with me until many years later. But boy, when it did connect…!

    If you compare it to the Elton John album, there is a tremendous growth spurt in terms of the maturity of the material. It's probably EJ's most 'grown-up' album.

  • Mark

    Where can I find sheet music for 'Where to now St. Peter' does anyone know?

  • Mark

    Where can I find sheet music for 'Where to now St. Peter' does anyone know?

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  • Ken Cowman

    Ken, your story so much mirrors mine. I have recently ventured back into vinyl after over 20 years. I recently purchased an original vinyl recording of Tumbleweed Connection. I too have wondered of the history behind the original ownership of this LP. I have always been an Elton John fan but this album never did much for me when I was younger. Today however, it is a different story. This album sits at the top of my collection and gets played almost daily. I never tire of hearing it. You might be right in that this album was ahead of its time, but I also wonder whether the dismal music of today returns the spotlight back to a time when music was much more real versus the manufactured stuff of today. This album takes me back to a time when music was much simpler and more real. I don't know who the original owner of this particular LP was but I thank that person for passing on a timeless classic for me to enjoy. And yes, it's better on vinyl.

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