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'Tumbleweed Connection'

Elton John and Bernie Taupin's Love Letter to Americana

Elton John's third album was released later in 1970 after his career-making second album was released earlier in the year. The Tumbleweed Connection album immediately sets a western mood with the photograph of the old-time General Store on the cover while the illustrations in the booklet depict various pieces of Americana such as trains, steamboats, farms, and guns. The Americana themes of the album were heavily influenced by the work of Robbie Robertson’s songwriting for The Band, the former backing band of Bob Dylan, which went on to record great albums such as Music From Big Pink and their self-titled second album known for such classic songs as "Up on Cripple Creek" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," which have become classics of Americana. Taupin would not actually see America until later that year when Elton’s first tour of the States went underway.

The album opens with the lively “Ballad of a Well-Known Gun,” a guitar and piano driven rocker featuring a group of backing vocalists including Dusty Springfield. Skalia Kanga’s harp announces the beginning of “Come Down in Time,” a rather straightforward yet beautiful love song and a bit of a departure from the Western concept of the album. Next is the album highlight “Country Comfort,” a down-on-the-farm-style country ballad which features prominent fiddle and harmonica and backing vocals by Elton’s longtime rhythm section of Dee Murray and Nigel Olsson. “Son of Your Father” is a funky rocker prominently featuring the harmonica playing of Ian Duck from the band Hookfoot and a lively chorus of backing vocalists. Up next is “My Father's Gun,” sung from the point of view of a soldier for the Confederacy during the American Civil War whose contempt for the place where any Yankee stands is palpable. "Where to Now, St. Peter" features the narrator questioning the heavenly gatekeeper of Christian lore whether he is on the road to heaven or hell and acknowledging his lack of faith.

“Love Song” is not written by the songwriting team of Elton John and Bernie Taupin. Rather, it is written by Leslie Duncan, who sings harmonies with Elton on the track and is a featured backing vocalist on this and many other early Elton albums as well as Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon.

Amoreena is the recording debut of Elton’s classic rhythm section of Dee Murray on bass and Nigel Olsson on drums. Coincidentally, Amoreena is also the name of Elton’s Goddaughter.

"Talking Old Soldiers" is a piano-driven portrait of two former soldiers in a bar reminiscing about the many friends they have lost during the war. It is reminiscent of the type of character studies popularized by Randy Newman.

The album’s final track “Burn Down the Mission” is a fitting finale, featuring in contrast the verse and chorus of the song, which is a very straightforward ballad, and the high energy bashing on the piano that would later define the work of fellow Piano Man and associate Billy Joel. While no songs on Tumbleweed Connection were ever hit singles, its strong concept (which may have partially inspired The Eagles similarly Western-themed Desperado album three years later) and sound, and the Americana-tinged lyrics by Bernie Taupin, make it an important yet often overlooked album in Elton’s career.

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'Tumbleweed Connection'
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