When “Tumbleweed Connection” was released in 1970, Elton John was just 23 years old and already making waves in the music industry. This third studio album solidified his place as a major talent and established him as an artist with a unique vision.
It feels like I have been working backwards down Elton’s discography only falling in love with this album on it’s 50th anniversary during lockdown in 2020. I had bought a few of the early albums on vinyl, trying to listen to it as a fresh listener would have experienced in on release.
Recorded far from the cradle of the civil war, in London’s Trident Studios (where Ziggy Stardust was recorded) The album is a concept album that explores the themes of the American West, featuring songs about cowboys, gunslingers, and outlaws, all set against the backdrop of the American Civil War. It’s a bold cinematic move for two young Brits, but they nail it. Remember this was only three years after the two had got together and this album.
Of the album themes, John F. Higgins, writing on the official Elton John website confirms a change of approach. “Leaving behind the lush, British landscapes so poetically put forward on their previous album, Elton and Bernie reached for their sepia-soaked paintbrushes with both hands to evoke the American wild west on the third LP.”
Bernie Taupin’s lyrics are a standout feature of the album. His storytelling paints vivid images of the dusty plains and rugged mountains of the American West. He perfectly captures the spirit of the Americana theme, and his words provide an evocative backdrop for John’s powerful vocals. The opening track “Ballad of a Well-Known Gun” sets the tone for the album and sets the scene for the journey through the wild west that follows. The melancholic “Where to Now St. Peter?” tells the story of a gunslinger at the end of his life, looking back on a life of violence and regret.
“Amoreena” is a beautiful ballad about a gunslinger’s lover, with a subtle melody that perfectly captures the longing and heartbreak of the lyrics.
Elton’s vocals are in top form on this album. He delivers each song with emotion and power, his voice is the perfect instrument to convey the stories Bernie’s lyrics tell. He sings with a conviction that belies his young age and it’s clear that he is fully invested in the themes of the album. The standout tracks include “My Father’s Gun,” a hauntingly powerful song about a son’s struggle to come to terms with his father’s past as a Confederate soldier. The song is a tour-de-force, with John’s vocals reaching new heights of emotion as he sings about the weight of his father’s legacy.
Of the album, Jon Landau wrote in Rolling Stone, “The melodies were superb, and lyrics frequently very good, and the performances flawless. “ The album was a hit, reaching no. 2 in the UK album charts and 5 in the USA.
If you haven’t heard it for a while, or for the first time then stick it on, crank it up and hear an album that sounds fresh powerful and fun! “I’d like to know where the riverboat sales tonight..”