[Review] Elton John: Tumbleweed Connection (1970)

Elton and Bernie’s concept album brings American history to life, but forgot to pack a hit.

Kronomyth 3.0: Rock of the westerns.

For their next act, Elton John and Bernie Taupin decided to make a concept album set in the post-Civil War United States. Tumbleweed Connection featured a similar cast to their last record but was far more cohesive in style and execution. Although the album includes some of their best songs (“Burn Down The Mission,” “Amoreena,” “Where To Now St.Peter?”), it didn’t produce a single; instead, “Your Song” was released from the earlier Elton John.

Even without a readily identifiable hit to rally around, Tumbleweed is a fan favorite. It has its share of stereotypes and inaccuracies (the goose has never been a food staple over here, let alone the hedgehog), yet Bernie’s lyrics are some of his most powerful and intimate, revealing a faculty for getting into the head of fictional characters that would serve him well throughout the years. Tumbleweed is also one of the most guitar-centric albums in Elton’s catalog; you’d probably have to look forward to Rock of the Westies for another album with as many guitar solos (Caleb Quaye is the common link to both). Quaye’s fuzzed guitar gives the songs a hazy, psychedelic edge that fits comfortably into the rock camp of David Bowie (who shared a producer/arranger).

Despite Gus Dudgeon’s sometimes epic production and Paul Buckmaster’s arrangements, Tumbleweed Connection is an intimate, understated album. The songs gain a foothold without using force, relying on good music and a compelling narrative to pull the listener into its sepia-toned snapshots of Civil War survivors. While Elton and Bernie were just beginning to unleash their cast of characters, the pair wouldn’t write another concept album (although the autobiographical Captain Fantastic could be considered one). For prog fans, this is Exhibit A in making the case for the man as a progressive artist, with Madman and Yellow Brick Road suitable for the supporting argument. In 2008, Tumbleweed Connection was re-issued as a two-disc Deluxe Edition with a bonus disc of piano demos, unreleased session recordings and live versions recorded for the BBC.

Original LP Version

A1. Ballad of a Well-Known Gun (4:59)
A2. Come Down In Time (3:24)
A3. Country Comfort (5:07)
A4. Son of Your Father (3:46)
A5. My Father’s Gun (6:19)
B1. Where To Now St. Peter? (4:12)
B2. Love Song (Lesley Duncan) (3:39)
B3. Amoreena (5:02)
B4. Talking Old Soldiers (4:02)
B5. Burn Down The Mission (6:20)

All songs written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin unless noted.

CD reissue bonus tracks
11. Into The Old Man’s Shoes
12. Madman Across The Water (original version)

2CD reissue – Disc Two
1. There Goes A Well Known Gun
2. Come Down In Time
3. Country Comfort
4. Son of Your Father
5. Talking Old Soldiers
6. Into The Old Man’s Shoes
7. Sisters of the Cross
8. Madman Across The Water
9. Into The Old Man’s Shoes
10. My Father’s Gun (BBC session)
11. Ballad of a Well-Known Gun (BBC session)
12. Burn Down The Mission (BBC session)
13. Amoreena (BBC session)

The Players

Elton John (piano, vocals, organ), Caleb Quaye (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, lead guitar), Bernie Taupin (lyrics) with Madeline Bell (backing vocals), Paul Buckmaster (arrangements), Tony Burrows (backing vocals on A1/A5), Brian Dee (organ on B5), Ian Duck (harmonica on A3/A4), Lesley Duncan (backing vocals, acoustic guitar), Mike Egan (acoustic guitar on B5), Herbie Flowers (bass), Kay Garner (backing vocals), Dave Glover (bass), Tony Hazzard (backing vocals on A1/A5), Tammi HUnt (backing vocals on A4), Gordon HUntley (steel guitar on A3), Karl Jenkins (oboe on A2), Robin Jones (congsa & tambourine on B5), Skaila Kanga (harp on A2), Chris Laurence (acoustic bass on A2/B5), Barry Morgan (drums), Dee Murray (backing vocals, bass), Nigel Olsson (backing vocals, drums), Roger Pope (drums and percussion), Dusty Springfield (backing vocals on A1/A5), Sue and Sunny (backing vocals on A4), Les Thatcher (acoustic guitar, acoustic 12-string guitar), Johnny Van Derek (violin on A3). Produced by Gus Dudgeon.

The Plastic

Released on elpee on October 30, 1970 in the UK (DJM, DJLPS-410), the US (Uni, 73096), Australia (DJM, SJDL-934079), Germany (DJM/Hansa, 80988-IT), Japan (DJM, FP-80211), Portugal (DJM, MM-8016) and Thailand (First, 2023) with gatefold cover and lyric booklet; reached #5 on the UK charts and #5 on the US charts (RIAA-certified platinum record). Thailand elpee features a unique cover.

  1. Re-issued on elpee in 1973 in the US (MCA, MCA-2014) with gatefold cover and lyric booklet.
  2. Re-issued on elpee in 1977 in the UK (DJM, DJF-20410) with gatefold cover and lyric booklet.
  3. Re-issued on elpee in 1981 in the UK (DJM, DJM-22088), the US (MCA, MCA-1674) and Japan (DJM, K22P-203).
  4. Re-issued on elpee in 1982 in Canada (MCA, MCA-37199).
  5. Re-released on remastered 24k gold compact disc in 1991 in the US (Mobile Fidelity, UDCD-543).
  6. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc in 1995 in the UK (Rocket, 528 155) and Japan (Mercury, PHCR-4013) with 2 bonus tracks.
  7. Re-released on expanded super audio compact disc in 2004 in the UK (Mercury, 9824 028) with 2 bonus tracks.
  8. Re-issued on expanded, remastered compact disc in Japan (Universal, UICY-9102) with 2 bonus tracks.
  9. Re-released as 2CD Deluxe Edition on June 2, 2008 in the UK (Mercury, 5305 255) and Japan (Universal, UICY-93665).

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