Among the things that somehow escaped me over the past few years is the 2017 documentary film The American Epic Sessions. The film surrounds the restoration of a 1920’s recording system, apparently the first to use an electronic microphone to record a room full of performers. The system cut a wax disc directly from the performance, and the cutting lathe was driven by a descending 100 lb. weight that provided about 3-1/2 minutes of recording time.
Once the restored system was operational, an A-list group of musicians showed up to take turns cutting tracks for the movie and for an expanded set of records.
Jack White created this gem, “Matrimonial Inclinations”. One take perfection.
Here’s Elton John with Jack providing a bit of backing.
And finally, here is Willie Nelson and the late Merle Haggard, who passed away before the film’s release.
My last post was about Elton John’s Jewel Box collection due out in two weeks, but this past Friday Joni Mitchell beat him to the market with a 5-disk box set of her own. Joni Mitchell Archives Vol. 1: The Early Years (1963-1967) features her very earliest recordings and wraps up before the release of her first album, 1968’s Song to a Seagull.
Rolling Stone has a nice article on the box set that links to an August 1965 recording of Joni’s first original composition, “Day After Day”. Joni had been singing folk songs in cafes in her native Calgary, and this song, her vocals and guitar playing sound very much born out of that background.
Less than two years later, in March 1967, Joni recorded this performance of “Both Sides Now”. It was not long after Mitchell had written the song and about the same time Judy Collins released her Grammy Award winning version. Witness Mitchell’s rapid evolution as a writer, lyricist, singer, and musician with a unique style as you compare this performance to “Day After Day”.
Apologies to Joni for bringing up Elton John twice in her post, but since announcing his Jewel Box collection, Sir Elton put out a really special recording not included in that set. “Come Down in Time” from Tumbleweed Connection, an album celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, is a personal favorite. This jazz version apparently was recorded before the album version, and it features an extended jazz improvisation.
On November 13th Elton John will release Jewel Box, a 148-song collection of curated selections and previously unreleased material. Jewel Box includes favorite album tracks of Elton’s that were not hits, dozens of demos and unreleased tracks, B-sides of singles that never made it to albums, and a set of songs mentioned in Me, John’s 2019 autobiography. You can find all the details at www.eltonjohn.com.
Two tracks from Jewel Box have been pre-released to whet our appetites. “Sing Me No Sad Songs” is a 1969 demo that never appeared on an album or single, but represents an early Elton John/Bernie Taupin collaboration.
“Regimental Sgt. Zippo” was recorded in 1968 and was to be the title track of Elton’s debut album, but that project was never released. I can’t seem to find who’s responsible for this newly created, but very retro, video.
Elton’s debut album was, rather, 1969’s Empty Sky. It was not released in the U.S., and I’d always thought of his 1970 eponymous album featuring “Your Song” and “On the Border” as his debut – but not so! Jewel Box contains a demo version of “Skyline Pidgeon” from Empty Sky. The song was rearranged years later and appeared on the B-side of the hit “Daniel”. Here is the original version, which was was chosen to play through the closing credits of the 2018 Academy Award winning film The Favourite.
Elton John’s new album “Wonderful Crazy Night” will be released February 5th. It’s Sir Elton’s 32nd studio album (or 33rd depending on what internet page you believe). Long-time collaborator Bernie Taupin is still writing lyrics, and uber-producer T Bone Burnett is back after helping out on John’s 2013 album, “The Diving Board”. Here’s “Looking Up”, one of a few live-studio performance videos made for the new release.
On February 18th Lake Street Dive will release “Side Pony”, their first release with new label, Nonesuch Records. Nonesuch is a great label, being home to acts as diverse as The Black Keys, Wilco, Ry Cooder, Pat Metheny, and Emmylou Harris. Hopefully it will mean a new level of exposure for LSD. Unlike Elton’s new album, no cool videos have yet dropped for “Side Pony”, but the band previewed the track “Close to Me” at last year’s Outside Lands Music Festival in San Francisco.
While I wasn’t planning a Glenn Frey tribute this week, I tripped across this Lake Street Dive cover of “Take It To The Limit”. Written by Frey, together with Don Henley and Randy Meisner, it was the only Eagles single on which Meisner sang lead. Here’s the song with Rachel Price singing lead.
On October 14th Paul McCartney released his aptly titled album “New”, just a few weeks after Elton John released “The Diving Board”. McCartney’s Beatles and Elton John are the two top selling British artists of all time, with an estimated one billion albums sold between them.
McCartney serves up quite a mix of styles on “New”. The title track has a classic McCartney sound and was co-produced by Giles Martin, son of George Martin who produced many records for the quartet. “Appreciate” is something completely different. With the help of British uber-producer Paul Epworth, it seems more a modern take on the complex orchestrations that pushed the Beatles off the stage and into the studio in their later years.
Elton John returns to the style of his earliest albums on “The Diving Board”, delivering mostly piano-driven ballads with the help of American uber-producer T Bone Burnett. “Home Again” was the first track released from the CD a few months back. In a recent interview in Rolling Stone magazine, John says “What can I say, it’s a perfect song” of his early hit “Your Song”. So, let’s also recall some perfection, Elton John style.