Thursday, February 27, 2014

'The Drover's Story' *(Updated Oct 2015)

Before I do my latest rambling...a big thanks to everyone who has checked the blog out over the last six month's.  The whole idea of it is to give Elton's music the due care and attention it deserves. The feedback I've been getting has been terrific, thanks for that also, the blog has a knowing audience. Plenty more to come over the next while.

For this latest update I've decided to highlight again one of those tracks that sort of went under the radar over the last few years. Elton has been well known for his soundtrack work and this song is one of his best contributions he's done. When I did a post on the Friends sound track album a while back I mentioned did it matter whether you'd seen the film or not and how it affected your view of the album. I have to confess I've never seen or country...but this song's impact is no less for me.

Lyrics are by a combination of folk...Baz Luhrmann, Anton Monsted & Schuyler Weiss...with music by Elton of course. The lyrics being a briefish synopsis of the films concept. A ballad in the true sense of the word. Lurhmann, who also directed the film, being no stranger to Elton's music having used it in his earlier film Moulin Rouge. 

The song is as rustic as you get. More Honky Chateau than Tumbleweed I would say. Exquisite brush work from Nigel, a part of his style often overlooked (not here) gives it that organically produced feel. Not be outdone in that department, Davey's prickly picked banjo nails the point. Filled out by acoustic guitars. Ballad by name, ballad by nature. Elton's vocal is very strong here, the mid tempo ease of it suiting him well. The piano is strong with equal ease. Both these elements are clearly demonstrated in the version that played over the closing credits. The mid tempo beat never lets up until the bridge (with a classic Davey line on that part in the band version). The orchestral version is a shorter affair, but has a full sound that Elton's piano and voice is more than capable on their own of producing. 

I think what this song demonstrates is that...Elton who produced it by the that those around him are quite capable of stepping up and creating a sound that is in keeping with the material provided. The sound is right, the delivery is right, the end result is classic Elton alright. 

* Now since I did that piece nearly two years ago I've been privileged to see the film in it's entirety. I'll not give any spoilers needless to say it's a terrific piece of work. The twin devices of the Australian outback and the actual WWII events that took place on the same soil is a narrative cinema has rarely bridged. A long film but well worth sticking with. Even though at the start Nicole Kidman hams it up so much the slices become as thick as slabs. Thankfully she settles down and thins out her performance.

Again not giving any spoilers away and going back to what I mentioned earlier about not having seen the film and does it matter as to what impact the song has. In some cases it doesn't but having now seen the film it certainly has a deeper context. The climatic scene where Elgar's Nimrod is stitched together with a brief musical interlude from another musical act into Elton's orchestral version of the song is emotive and for the almost seamless crossover made for each other. I don't think it's any coincidence that Nimrod is one of Elton's favourite pieces of music (as mentioned on Desert Island Discs) and the climax of the film is well served by it. Elton's main melody appears sporadically throughout the film, it's motif cuts through the dust of the desert and the carnage of falling bombs with decisive sweeps. 

Like I said earlier, this song has been completely ignored and forgotten.On it's own it stands head and shoulders above most others, in the context of the film it moves beyond the idea of it merely being the soundtrack of the audience getting up and going 'walkabout'.

Monday, February 10, 2014

'Keep Right On'

Once upon a time when you reached 65, you were entitled to many social payments on reaching that venerable milestone. Not any more...

Nigel has reached that number today. But it's only a number. This blog is a Nigel zone, so heaping praise on him today is the same as it every day. Nigel is for life, not just for other I'll post what is for me anyway the best EJ/BT song that Elton never released himself. According to a question I asked Davey on his blog a good while back Elton did record a version of it during the Made In England sessions but obviously it never appeared. However this gem was handed to another diamond and he did a terrific job on it.

If anyone hasn't got Move The Universe, then why not. It's essentially the EJ band of the day (2000/01) with Fred Mandel and Kiki Dee putting in appearances too. So it's high on quality, personnel wise. Even higher on performance. Recorded around the time he came to the band (a time as we all remember was a moment to rejoice). Nigel is a terrific singer, he's a got a laid back style that oozes ease and sophistication. Kinda like his drumming. 

The song is classic Taupin lyrics, descriptive imagery with plenty of rhyme that seem to have no reason to them. What's it about...answers on a postcard to the usual address. Needless to say Nigel's delivery makes even the most cryptic of Taupin's visualizations seem real and tangible. The bridge is classic Elton, the sudden tempo change in tandem with the change in Nigel's vocal delivery. Beautiful!!

I've always had a couple of dreams about, not those kind...but about something I'd love to see in concert one day. Firstly him singing this during an Elton show. It's been done before, Nigel doing his bit so to speak, so who would object. Nobody here I suspect. Secondly for him to jump down from the kit and stand at the mike and sing Too Low For Zero just like on the 1984 tour. If that happened, I suspect I may not want to see much more after that. Or Davey to sing Keep Right On which Nigel (and Elton) played on...or maybe...just for Nigel to keep the beat going on and on and on...

Friday, February 7, 2014

'Now We've Seen It Too'

Every so other words every show...Elton pulls something special out of his bag of tricks. But once and a while he delves real deep and produces more than a rabbit. In this case one of the quietly burning, slowly but surely climbs to the summit. And what a peak it is...

Whatever way you look at it, the GYBR 40th is currently grabbing some big headlines. The various formats it's being released on in March has got the web shops all in a fluster. But what is even more fluster inducing is the inclusion of a sizeable chunk of the album live on the current tour. Putting to bed the canard that Elton can't sing the old songs in his current vocal incarnation. All the songs he's done so far have been flawless. This one being the exception to the rule. Because it's positively beyond reproach. Or equal!!

The most recent addition from GYBR to the setlist has been I've Seen That Movie Too. Thanks to my friend Richard who was at the show, we can now see it here. The heavy piano, doomy with emotionally wrought lyrics. Elton's vocal...the 21st Century it more depth of feeling. With an angrier tone than before. His life experiences adding that bit of method to the delivery. The piano playing is spot on with the recorded version but as per usual live it, it's wider. With nothing screened off. The mindset of the song is laid bare in CinemaScope quality.

The band aren't supporting actors here. Their names are in big letters (slightly smaller than Elton's of course!) but sill appearing prominently on the poster. The song is painstakingly reproduced. It has to be. So many parts in it are key to it's attraction. Nigel's trademark slow drumming at the start is a soundtrack in it's own right. His gig wide fills hammering in their contribution. Kim playing the mountainous string arrangement by Del Newman has every line nailed. No ad libbing here, it's sticks to the perfect script. Angular movements with sweeping and graceful poise. Davey throwing licks in when Elton's vocal leaves the scene free. The instrumental breaks are terrific, it's as if the camera pans over the scene to survey the damage that the drama being played out is wreaking on the characters. 

But then Davey gets his big moment. Scene stealing...possibly. The solo on the album version is one of rocks greatest appearances. The backwards effects giving it a demented sensation. A mind all muddled up and confused. On stage he delivers the big lines. With no flinches. The desperation of the lyrics seep through the solo, the guitar wails in sympathy with the songs attitude. On the second part of the solo, the strings return. Weighty and foreboding. Davey is pushing it to the limit. Overwrought without hamming it. The final chorus has Elton with chest pushed out repeating his position...defiant right to the end.

Elton continues to wow the crowds. Diehards and the floating voters. Who could ask for more...just the rest of the album maybe...

Thursday, February 6, 2014

'It's A Whiz Of A Whiz'

We should be grateful that they've at least recognised the fact the album has reached a milestone. Even it is a year late!! I'm not sure what benefit another remastering will bring to this. The dvd of the Bryan Forbes doc is definitely a must have. Hopefully they've remstered the picture and sound on it. The book looks great too, the artwork of the album both inside and out is pretty iconic. As iconic almost as the material on the disc. The covers disc...why?!?! Though in saying that, Imelda May from This Town of mine appears doing Your Sister Can't Twist. Anyone familiar with her will know that song is well suited to her style. If not, check her out.

The Hammersmith Odeon concert was probably picked due to the fact that it has the most songs performed from the album in one location during that tour. Hollywood Bowl might have been a better choice due to Elton not being as congested as he is at Hammersmith. Another odd thing about the Hammersmith show is how 'twangy' Davey's guitar is on that show. I'm sure the guitar people would know more about that. It'll be interesting to see if they tweak it like the did with the 60th birthday show. Otherwise it's a great snapshot of Elton at that moment. 

As far as I know there are no demo's for the album. Everything was written and then recorded pretty much in the same movement. Again out takes are seemingly non-existent, everything that was recorded in those sessions ended up being used in one form or another. Depending of course on how many takes they took to record each track, any variations would be minimal. So the vaults didn't really have much to throw out.

As a sidebar to all this Elton has brought back in I've Seen That Movie Too to the current setlist. Coupled with the songs he's already doing from the album it's possible he could maybe do as near to possible the whole thing sometime this year. He has already done Harmony, Roy Rogers, Sweet Painted Lady in recent years so adding Danny Bailey and Dirty Little Girl for example should be no problem. I've a feeling he could be on a gradual walk down the Yellow Brick Road to that rainbow...