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In The Studio: Elton John Gets Back

New Burnett-produced LP returns to piano-drums-bass sound

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Gavin Edwards Apr 30, 2013
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Elton John. Photo: Kevin Mazur/Courtesy of Universal Music

Elton John. Photo: Kevin Mazur/Courtesy of Universal Music

“I’m not the sort of artist who’ll get played on the radio,” said Elton John recently in a Los Angeles studio. That might sound absurd coming from someone with over 50 Top 40 U.S. hits ”“ until you consider that his last one was a LeAnn Rimes duet in 1999. John’s next album, The Diving Board (due out in the fall), may be unlikely to win over radio program directors, but it’s his best work in years. At the encouragement of producer T Bone Burnett, John went back to the piano-drums-bass sound of his earliest albums, making a stripped-down record that feels like a Cinemascope Western. “It’s got everything I love about American music,” John said. “Gospel, soul, country.”

After recording most of the disc over a handful of days in early 2012, John enjoyed the luxury of putting it aside while he worked on other projects. This past January, he returned to the studio to “put a little sugar on it.”

Sitting in the control room, wearing an Adidas tracksuit and Nike sneakers without socks, John listened, clasping his fingers, tapping his feet, even conducting with his left hand along to the cellos that garnish one tune. Highlights of the 13-song set, which features lyrics from longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin, include “Oceans Away,” a melancholy ballad about dead soldiers; “My Quicksand,” a cabaret tale (“I went to Paris once.”‰.”‰.”‰.”‰I woke up with an accent”); and the title track, which feels like it could stop the world’s spinning for five minutes.

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Raphael Saadiq plays bass, with session pro Jay Bellerose on drums. Other guests include Motown legend Jack Ashford on percussion. Marveled John, “He used the same block on ”˜What’s Going On’!”

In many ways, the disc feels like a homecoming. “It’s the most adult record I can make at my age,” John said. “I’m just heading toward being 80 and playing at the Holiday Inn.” 

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