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Rhythm And Blues

Elton John – Farewell Yellow Brick Road (Concert Review)

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Elton John – Farewell Yellow Brick Road (Concert Review)

I recently had the privilege of seeing Elton John in concert for the fourth time. This tour, called “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” is world-wide and goes through 2021. If you ever had any intentions of seeing Elton John live in concert, do it now, as he is retiring from live performances after this tour. A list of tour stops can be found here

I’ve been a huge Elton John fan since (ahem) 1973, with the release of the album “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player,” which gave the world the classic songs, “Daniel” and “Crocodile Rock.” Both songs were performed, as well as 22 more for a rocking and energetic evening of classic Elton John.

Opening the show was “Bennie and the Jets,” which set the tone for the entire evening: the fans went wild and were singing along from the first note. “Bennie” was followed by deep cut “All The Young Girls Love Alice,” exciting for me as it comes from one of my top ten albums of all time, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.”

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One thing I love about Elton John: he appreciates his audience. He thanked the fans throughout the show, noting that if it weren’t for them, he wouldn’t be there. He also explained the stories behind some of his songs. “Border Song” was covered by Aretha Franklin, which made Elton and songwriting partner Bernie Taupin feel like they would be taken seriously as musicians. “Believe” was important to his work with his AIDS foundation. He also spoke of his hitting rock bottom with drugs, alcohol, and overall bad attitude, and how saying three little words-“I need help”-made all the difference in his life. Again, he expressed appreciation for those people who helped and supported him during his difficult time, and for his fans that have bought his music, merchandise, and most importantly, came to his shows.

Behind Elton was a screen that played videos during some of the songs. I could have done without that, as most of them made no sense and didn’t add anything to the performance. That is, until he played “I’m Still Standing.” Those clips were fun to watch: Elton on the “Muppet Show,” “Simpsons,” and “South Park,” old MTV videos, footage of concerts from the 1970s.

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If you want to hear the hits, Elton has you covered. “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me,” “Candle In The Wind,” “Bitch Is Back,” “Philadelphia Freedom,” “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” all showcased Elton’s piano skills. As for his vocal skills, he still has it. At almost 72 years old Elton still brings everything he has to his performance.

I remember wanting the “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” album sooooo bad! Back then the double album cost $6. It took weeks of saving my allowance to have the money to finally buy it. I played it on constant loop; there’s not a bad song on the album. To hear Elton perform “Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” was such a thrill for me, as it’s one of my favorites on the album.

During the concert I uploaded some videos to Facebook. A junior high/high school friend of mine was a HUGE Elton John fan, as in, she was a fanatic! I knew those videos would give her a thrill, and her responses to them made it all worthwhile: “OMGGGGGGGG!!” “Are you kidding me?!? He sang that too?!?” “Thank you for posting these!!”

I go to a lot of concerts, and many of the artists or bands I see are in their 60s or 70s. I’ve been asked why I bother seeing someone “so old,” what’s the point when they’ve already reached the pinnacle of their success. The reason is simple: I grew up with those artists. Yes, they’re older, and sometimes they can't hit the high notes like they used to. But they still have it! They bring their talent, charisma, and artistry to their performances. If they didn’t, no one would be paying good money for tickets. I’m afraid that in a few short years my concert going will be limited, as so many of my favorites are retiring. I forget that we all are much older than I think we are!

In just under 3 hours, Elton John sang 24 songs, with the crowd wanting more. There are so many I would have loved to hear: “Empty Garden,” “High Flying Bird,” “Harmony,” “Teacher I Need You,” and “Blues For Baby and Me” for starters. I’m sure if you asked each person in attendance, what they would like to hear, Elton’s entire catalogue would have been covered. Obviously that’s not possible. But if you like Elton John’s hits, you will NOT be disappointed with this show. Check Elton’s website for a show near you, and get tickets as soon as they go on sale. I promise it will be worth your while.

Click here to read other Elton John reviews by Subjective Sounds. 

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Billy Joel – An Innocent Man (Album Review)

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Billy Joel – An Innocent Man (Album Review)

Billy Joel has an exceptional back catalogue that would be the envy of many musicians. While Storm Front will always be my personal favourite, An Innocent Man, not unlike Joel's sensational Greatest Hits, Vols. 1 & 2, is about as close to perfection as you can get. Yes, dear reader, An Innocent Man plays like a greatest hits release and should be in all serious music collections.

While it has never made it to my physical collection, I have promised myself the Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab (MFSL) double LP release that has been mastered from the original master tapes using MOFI’s patented GAIN 2™ technology. While all the acronyms look impressive, I have a number of these releases and they are simply astonishing and make CD-quality streaming services, like TIDAL Hi-Fi, sound lifeless and flat by comparison. Speaking of TIDAL Hi-Fi, this review is based on listening to and enjoying that edition. I’ve also taken the time to appreciate An Innocent Man on Apple Music and have found the two streaming services are comparable to each other as they are derived from the same master. However, the Apple Music stream, for An Innocent Man, is about five percent louder. The additional loudness could be due to any number of production reasons, but louder volumes do give the faux perception of better quality. Now, I'm not suggesting this is the case, but it would be naive to ignore the possibility. Of course, if the volume is extended too far, the sound will degrade as a result of increased distortion; a key problem in the loudness wars. Correct management of volume, particularly in the recording, mixing, and mastering stages, is a fine line that has sadly been crossed far too often. That all said, both streams sound exceptional, but when an album is of this calibre, it will sound good regardless of lossy or lossless compression algorithms.

Without doubt, An Innocent Man, is one of the greatest albums from the 80s, but the launch window would result in a disappointing result for Joel as Michael Jackson's Thriller won the Grammy for Album Of The Year over An Innocent Man. While Jackson's Thriller is a landmark album, one I thoroughly enjoy, I'd argue that Joel’s An Innocent Man is a better album and has also stood the test of time much better than Thriller which, in my subjective opinion, is starting to sound a little dated. Perhaps An Innocent Man avoided the dreaded dating of its sound as Joel based the writing of the album on his beloved, and arguably timeless, 50s and 60s music styles. The continuous lighthearted Be-bop, Soul, and R&B styling is addictive and remarkably well suited to Joel.

Easy Money has a sensational beat – thank you Liberty DeVito! It’s a fun little song to start the album with, but the chorus isn't compelling as I find it a little distracting with it’s downbeat shift. Nevertheless, Easy Money is a great song that sets the listener up for the music they’re about to hear on the album.

An Innocent Man slows the pace of the album a little, but the transition never sounds out-of-place. When listening to An Innocent Man, you really begin to comprehend what a sensational vocalist Joel is. Joel has incredible control of his vocal and takes it right to the edge, ensuring the presentation is nothing short of a pleasure to listen to. I could listen to this song indefinitely, it is that good.

The Longest Time is, as Uptown Girl is, one of the most enjoyable songs to sing along to. Seriously, tell me you can sit and listen without singing along to this classic. Even if only in your mind, it’s addictive. I love it!

This Night really opens up throughout the chorus. Yes, the whole song is fantastic, but as a Ludwig van Beethoven fan, I really appreciate how Joel merged his vision with that of Beethoven’s. The result is a sonic interpretation that is absolutely timeless. A masterpiece!

Tell Her About It has a fantastic upbeat tempo that will have you toe-tapping and head-bopping from the very first note.

Uptown Girl is my song. It, along with Starship's We Built This City, is responsible for my love of music. Absolutely brilliant!

Careless Talk shifts the style of the album and can sound a little out-of-place following the upbeat sound of Tell Her About It and Uptown Girl. However, as a song on its own, it’s a solid recording, but if there were a B-side on An Innocent Man, it would be Careless Talk.

Christie Lee is a sensational rock tune with an exceptional saxophone element. I love it! You’ll most certainly want to turn the volume up on this song.

Leave A Tender Moment Alone is a stunningly beautiful ballad.

Keeping The Faith is a song I’ve always enjoyed, but it’s a strange song to conclude the album with as it’s somewhat different to the songs that came before it. It sounds too modern for the album’s style, but as a song on its own, it's extraordinary!

Overall, An Innocent Man is an astonishingly good album and one of Joel's best, if not his best. If you want to listen to a flawless album, that is also timeless, then this is the album for you. Pure perfection!

An Innocent Man is available on Vinyl, SACD, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes).

If you prefer streaming, An Innocent Man is available on TIDAL Hi-Fi, Apple Music, and Spotify.

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Vintage Trouble – 1 Hopeful Road (Album Review)

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Vintage Trouble – 1 Hopeful Road (Album Review)

Rhythm & Blues with a touch of Rock & Roll = PURE PERFECTION!

Yes, that pure perfection is exactly what you can expect from 1 Hopeful Road, the third studio album from Vintage Trouble. 1 Hopeful Road leaves me somewhat speechless as there’s no accurate way to describe the masterful styling of Vintage Trouble. They must be heard to be believed and if you enjoy the aforementioned musical styles, you're going to love 1 Hopeful Road.

Run Like The River sets the tone of the album with a perfectly distorted guitar intro and beat that is addictive. It’s a killer blues rock and roll track!

From My Arms slows the album's tempo down, but it’s presented so masterfully that it doesn’t feel out-of-place. From My Arms is a beautiful near ballad-acoustic piece that is recorded, mixed, and mastered immaculately well. This is how good music should sound. Where before you would have been toe-tapping and head-bopping to the pace of Run Like The River, you'll be doing the same here but in slow motion. Spectacular!

Doin' What You Were Doin' continues the smooth but determined blues-rock beat. I always feel compelled to sing-along to this song. Of course, I absolutely butcher the beautiful tonality of the song, but it is so good that I simply can't help myself. As I sit and enjoy Doin’ What You Were Doin’, I can’t help but think how happy the executives at Blue Note must be with their decision to distribute Vintage Trouble. The label's legacy and the band’s style are so perfectly suited that I couldn't think of a better match.

Angel City, California kicks the rock element up a notch and in some ways is reminiscent of the Eagles style. A great song with a great tempo. I love it!

Shows What You Know gets rather bluesy, but that’s a good thing. Seriously, listen to that soundstage and the shimmer of the cymbals. If anyone tells you good music doesn't exist in the modern era, point them to this album and this song.

My Heart Won't Fall Again is a thoroughly enjoyable upbeat song. Ty Taylor's vocal delivery is buttery smooth with just the right amount of grit. Taylor is, without a doubt, one of the world's greatest vocalists.

Another Man's Words is one of the best songs on the album, if not the best. The musicality is off-the-charts. Absolutely beautiful!

Strike Your Light (feat. Kamilah Marshall) wakes you up, just in case you slipped into a micro-sleep following the smooth and relaxing Another Man's Words. Despite the musical shift, Strike Your Light is an excellent song, but if there was a single song, on 1 Hopeful Road, that I could point to as being a B-side, it would be this one.

Before The Tear Drops has an incredible vintage sound! Sorry, but I had to go there. It’s the perfect blues club song for toe-tapping over dinner.

If You Loved Me is absolutely fantastic, reminding me of the music from legendary artists such as Bobby Womack, Marvin Gaye, and Smokey Robinson.

Another Baby would be a perfect song for Jimmy Barnes to cover on his next soul and blues album. Yes, it is that good, but I'm not sure Another Baby is perfectly suited to Vintage Trouble.

Soul Serenity is a beautiful song to close the album on, reminding me just how stunning the entire album is. There really isn't a bad song to be heard on 1 Hopeful Road as it plays like a greatest hits release of a band who has been around for decades. Let's hope their future albums are just as good, if not better than 1 Hopeful Road, but improving on perfection is not the easiest task.

This review was based on listening to the TIDAL Hi-Fi (CD-quality) stream and the Apple Music counterpart. While the TIDAL version was marginally better, with slightly better instrument separation, the Apple Music edition was no slouch and was sensational to listen to on my AirPods as I went about my daily tasks, away from the confines of my main stereo and headphone setups. Basically, when musicians are this talented and the album is recorded, mixed, and mastered with care, you're going to be presented with a sonically beautiful presentation regardless of lossy or lossless delivery methods. Truth be told, the only way to top the quality of the aforementioned streams would be to pick up 1 Hopeful Road on vinyl as Vintage Trouble’s style would perfectly suit the warmth and broadness often associated with the vinyl format.

1 Hopeful Road is available on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes).

If you prefer streaming, 1 Hopeful Road is available on TIDAL Hi-Fi, Apple Music, and Spotify.

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Aaron Neville – Warm Your Heart (Album Review)

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Aaron Neville – Warm Your Heart (Album Review)

At this time of year, my significant other starts to ask me what I'd like for the silly season. While my imagination runs wild, we’ve had a few unexpected expenses in the second half of 2018 and rather than aiming high, I thought it would be great to pick up a couple of SACDs that I’ve been longing for. As I was browsing the available titles at Birdland Records, I came upon an artist I love, but one that I haven't got extensive experience with. The first time Aaron Neville appeared on my radar was following the release of the exceptional Bodyguard soundtrack. Neville’s collaboration with Kenny G, on Even If My Heart Would Break, is nothing short of spectacular. Since then, I've always listened out for Neville's uniquely soulful vocals, but other than enjoying his career perspective releases, I haven't taken the time to listen to his albums in full. That all changed when I saw a hybrid SACD edition of his 1991 release, Warm Your Heart. I just knew I had to check it out, but as the SACD edition is rather expensive, I turned to TIDAL Hi-Fi and was blown away.

Sonically, Warm Your Heart is one of the greatest recorded, mixed, and mastered albums I have ever heard. The original CD pressing is said to have an astonishing dynamic range peaking at 17 out of 20, with an average of 15. While numbers don't always provide an accurate representation of quality, I can say that the soundstage is massive with all elements clearly positioned throughout. Plus, I actually want to turn the volume up, rather than down, as there is no brickwalling of the sound to be heard. The simple fact is, this is digital done right. Even the Apple Music counterpart, played via Apple's AirPods, maintains the sonic brilliance. I also find that I want to just sit and listen, for hours on end. It’s spectacular!

By comparison, yesterday I listened to the Tony Bennett and Diana Krall album, Love Is Here To Stay. I had high hopes, especially as Krall's productions are always beyond reproach, but the album fell flat from both a dynamic and excitement standpoint. It sounded concealed and I found myself distracted throughout. Yes, there were a couple of nice tracks, but it was the lacklustre production values that deterred my interest. Love Is Here To Stay is said to have an average dynamic range of 9 out of a possible 20, with a peak of 11. Again, numbers don't tell the entire story, but they are good for comparison and when you have Bennett and Krall together, you expect something spectacular. I still have to listen to the MQA edition of Love Is Here To Stay to see if the master is any better than the CD, but I’m not going to hold my breath as I feel the overall sound signature and style was decided during the recording and mixing process.

Regardless, you'd be hard pressed to find a better album, from any artist, as Warm Your Heart is nothing short of pure perfection. Of course, your feelings may differ to mine, so let’s examine the songs individually shall we?

Louisiana 1927 is a lovely song and a perfect introduction to the body of work that is Warm Your Heart.

Everybody Plays The Fool has a fantastic mix of soul and funk. When I listen to this song, I'm reminded of Barry Gibb as Neville can get awfully close to Gibb’s falsetto vocal style. I also think of Bob Marley when this song comes on. I adore this song and the correlations with other artists that arise in my mind as I’m listening.

It Feels Like Rain is simply gorgeous. Just listen and you’ll hear incredible musical detail. Every element is transparent and nothing is concealed. This is how music should sound!

Somewhere Somebody has a killer groove that is so perfectly recorded, you can turn off any equaliser settings you may be using and enjoy the song as it was intended to be heard.

Don't Go Please Stay is a beautiful song with a gorgeous classical overlay in both the vocal and instrumental backing.

With You In Mind is astonishingly good.

That's The Way She Loves is one of the greatest songs ever written and recorded, by any artist. It is THAT good!

Angola Bound, despite a 30-second relaxed intro, is a little jolting after That's The Way She Loves. It doesn't take away from the groove and enjoyment of listening to Angola Bound, but if I were doing the album tracking, I’d likely have placed Angola Bound in a different position, perhaps following Everybody Plays The Fool.

Close Your Eyes is a beautiful duet with Linda Ronstadt. Ronstadt was also the producer of the entire album; she did a fantastic job!

La Vie Dansante is a lovely tune, with an exceptional backing vocal track. This combination is beyond reproach as the vocal styles are perfectly complementary, thereby creating a sonic masterpiece.

Warm Your Heart is a solid track, but perhaps not one to write home about. It suits the album well, however.

I Bid You Goodnight is a beautiful vocal-focused ballad.

Ave Maria needs no introduction. It's an absolute classic and Neville pays respect to the song while making it his own. It's one of my all-time favourite songs and I absolutely adore this interpretation.

House On A Hill is a toe-tapping, head-bopping, song that is slightly jolting following the relaxed nature of Ave Maria, but it is so good that I don't mind the shifting style. That said, this is another song that may have benefited from a re-tracking of the album. As the final song on the album, however, it compels me to listen to the album again and stay within Neville's catalogue.

Warm Your Heart is superb from start to finish and should be in every music lovers collection, mine included.

Warm Your Heart is available on Vinyl, SACD, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes.

If you prefer streaming, Warm Your Heart is available on TIDAL Hi-Fi, Apple Music, and Spotify.

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Elton John - Honky Château (Album Review)

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Elton John - Honky Château (Album Review)

Is it just me or was Elton John's classic era superior to anything that he would do post the 70s? While I'm obviously being frivolous, I'm constantly astonished by just how incredible his music was throughout the 70s. Hence, if it amazes me in 2018, I can only imagine how people would have felt listening to Honky Château when released in 1972.

Honky Cat needs no introduction with its funk tonality. I don't know about you, but I simply adore turning the volume up when this song starts. It is masterfully recorded and mixed, subsequently resulting in a song that is catchy, but not campy. You will likely, as I do, find yourself singing along. In fact, it is so catchy that once heard, it plays like a broken record in your subconscious. It's absolutely brilliant!

Mellow as the title suggests, slows the album down a little. Normally this type of shift doesn't work well, but Honky Cat is so upbeat that you almost need a downbeat to rebalance the senses. Nevertheless, Mellow is a gorgeous song that can be experienced enjoyably on its own, or as part of the album experience. However, the final note at the end of the song sounds prematurely cut on my 1995 remastered CD. I've tried it various CD players and the same effect is preset upon each play. It is akin to a vinyl dropout. Interestingly, it is not present on the TIDAL Hi-Fi equivalent. I find these variations intriguing and can only suggest it was a pressing fault with the CD I have. My edition was pressed in the UK and I wonder if the dropout is also present on the US edition. If anyone has any thoughts about this, l'd love to hear from you.

I Think I'm Going To Kill Myself is pure vocal gold. John’s vocals shift pitch seamlessly and you can't help but move rhythmically when this song comes on. Utilising a similar upbeat funk as Honky Cat, I Think I'm Going To Kill Myself is addictive and is one of the best songs on the album. While the lyrical content and tongue-in-cheek approach may detract some listeners, especially with its somewhat irreverent comic approach, one must remember the different era in which the song was written and recorded. Regardless, you can't please everyone and if you're offended by the song then I can only suggest you don't listen to it.

Susie (Dramas) has a compelling rhythm that will get you toe-tapping, but it isn’t a standout song on the album.

Rocket Man (I Think It's Going To Be A Long, Long Time) is the quintessential Elton John song. While I could ramble on about just how exceptional this song is, all I really need to say is music doesn't get much better than this.

Salvation is simply beautiful.

This version of Slave is the more relaxed rendition that was, of course, included on the original album with the later version appearing only on digital editions post the 1995 remastering sessions. At this tempo it has a real Rolling Stones feel to it and I must admit that I prefer this version to the alternative edition.

Amy is a B-side with an incredible sound stage and musicality. You can certainly hear the influence of Mick Jagger in John's vocal performance. It is a unique merging that I find absolutely appealing. I especially enjoy the ending as the instrumental timbre rings out beautifully.

Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters is one of my all-time favourite songs. The first time I heard it was on John's 1989 compilation, The Collection. I subsequently became immersed with Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters and would place it on repeat for hours on end. It is really that good!

Hercules is a little more upbeat, but I can't help but think that Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters would have been a better choice for the final track on the original album. It isn't that Hercules is bad, the musicality is off the chart and that drum beat alone is incredible. It is just that Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters is so relaxing, by comparison, that it would have been nice to allow the mind to sit for a moment at the end of the record. Nevertheless, it wasn't meant to be and the 1995 remaster would extend the album with the Alternative Version of Slave.

Slave (Alternative Version), as I mentioned earlier, isn't my favourite rendition. The tempo shift is interesting, but John sounds about two beats short of a chipmunk. I'm sure some of you would love it, but I find the tempo is simply too fast.

Overall, Honky Château is a compelling album that I can easily listen to for hours. While it is true that that statement could be made regarding most of John’s albums, Honky Château has enough variety, in tempo alone, to never allow the listener to become distracted or wish they were listening to something else.

This review is based on listening to the 1995 remastered CD. An SACD version, with a multi-track surround sound mix, is also available, but I don't feel overly compelled to grab a copy as the mastering of this edition is beautiful and really showcases just how good the standard Redbook CD format can be.

Honky Château is available on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes.

If you prefer streaming, Honky Château is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Click here to read other Elton John reviews by Subjective Sounds.

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Elton John – Self-Titled (Album Review)

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Elton John – Self-Titled (Album Review)

Elton John has no shortage of classic albums that can be seen as both revolutionary and standing the test of time, but this self-titled second album sees John return to the studio with an even more polished production than was heard on Empty Sky. While I adore Empty Sky, Elton John has that recognisable Elton John sound signature and it is more realised in both sonic and lyrical terms.

Released in April of 1970, Elton John features his breakthrough and likely most recognisable song, Your Song. As the first song on the album, the piano introduction, with the vocal accompaniment, builds into an incredible song that is simply one of the most beautiful songs ever recorded. If you don't feel the need to sing-a-long to this song, you're not listening correctly? It is gorgeous from the first note and I never tire of it.

I Need You To Turn To is an incredible pop ballad. When I hear music this pure, I wonder if John and Taupin, along with the musicians, and the production team, were aware of the incredible music they were creating. Wouldn’t it be a shame if they considered some of these classics as nothing more than B-sides?

On that note, I find it fascinating that producer, Gus Dudgeon, has stated in a 2002 MIX interview that the album was never intended to launch John's career as the aim was to present a series of polished demos for other artists to record. If you’re interested in the evolution of a song, the 2008 Deluxe Edition contains more stripped down piano demos of many of the tracks. It is interesting to listen to these early demos, but I tend to always prefer the final album release.

Take Me To The Pilot has a raw acoustic introduction that I find very appealing. While it’s far from being the best song on the album, it has an addictive rhythm that draws me in every time I listen to the album.

No Shoe Strings On Louise has a nice country music twang to it, but I've never been convinced that style was perfectly suited to John, despite his later successes. I also feel this song is mimicking Mick Jagger’s style a little too much. You would honestly be forgiven if, upon hearing this song on the radio, you assumed it was a Rolling Stones or Mick Jagger solo recording. That said, it is still enjoyable and works well within the structure of the album.

First Episode At Hienton is sonically beautiful. While it is a song you will never sing-a-long to, you will find yourself turning the volume up in order to be enveloped in the immersive soundstage.

Sixty Years On begins with the sonic equivalent of 2001: A Space Odyssey. That shouldn’t be seen as a negative comment as you immediately get the impression that this is going to be a music experience like no other. Musically, Sixty Years On is pure perfection. The classical overtures are most certainly the highlight of the song, but John’s vocal delivery is also off-the-charts.

Border Song is a perfect composition. I simply love every aspect of this song.

The Greatest Discovery is magical!

The Cage has a great groove and rhythm. Think New Orleans Jazz meets Rock and Roll.

The King Must Die has a ridiculously good drum and bass beat throughout. You can feel it in your soul, just as you can picture the piano and John in the room with you as you close your eyes and turn up the volume. It is as close to a personal concert with Elton John as you will ever likely get.

Bad Side Of The Moon isn't a bad song, but it is a B-side. Plus, that little bump in volume towards the end is really annoying. I've come across that before, in other recordings, but I’ve always felt it ultimately detracts from the song. I wonder if it is a technique or a flaw in the original analogue recording? If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear from you.

Grey Seal is a fun tune, although I much prefer the recording of the song that made it on John’s legendary Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.

Rock And Roll Madonna is my least favourite song on the album. It certainly doesn't leave me with an overwhelming urge to listen to the album again as I find the composition is overly complex, especially when John's vocal kicks in. There simply isn't enough instrument separation and the song doesn’t have enough room to breathe. The result is an assault on the senses that ultimately would have been better left off the album.

Overall, Elton John is one of the greatest recordings in Rock/Pop history. Yes, we will all point to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road as being John’s pinnacle, but there is much to love about this self-titled release.

When I set out to review this album, I was aware of the various releases and masterings that exist. While I haven't heard the 2004 Multichannel SACD or the SHM SACD from Japan, I’m informed the Japanese release is subtly better. Although, as with everything, better is a subjective term. Subsequently, I based this review on the 24/96 kHz MQA edition streaming on TIDAL Hi-Fi. Yes, I also listened to the remastered 16/44.1 kHz CD edition, also on TIDAL Hi-Fi, and the differences were significant. The standard remastered CD lacked emphasis, soundstage, and felt flat when compared directly to the MQA edition. Hence, I’m intrigued to hear how good the SACD versions are by comparison. One problem, however, is the Japanese release is twice the price of the standard SACD and lacks the multichannel mix. Most normal music fans would say just enjoy the MQA version. Truth be told, the average fan would be content with the standard CD or MP3 equivalent. I wish I could say that I could be satisfied with whichever release comes down the pipeline, but once you have heard how different, different masterings can be, you tend to not settle for a lesser option be it MP3 or high-res, for both can produce substandard results if the mastering was done in haste. Of course, the problem is that I, like most people, don’t have an endless supply of cash and l'm also limited by the WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor). I have to be honest, the amount my beloved has allowed me to spend on music is significant and I can't thank her enough for allowing me to partake in this hobby. But, whatever you do dear reader, don't tell her that!

The ultimate truth is that I can be completely content with the MQA version as it is the best rendition of the album I have ever heard. While I still question just how much better the album could be on SACD, or even Vinyl, I’m not left wanting more from the MQA edition.

Elton John is available on Vinyl, SACD (Stereo and Multichannel), SMH-SACD, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes (Mastered For iTunes).

If you prefer streaming, you can also listen to Elton John on Spotify and Apple Music.

Click here to read other Elton John reviews by Subjective Sounds.

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Elton John - Empty Sky (Album Review)

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Elton John - Empty Sky (Album Review)

Debut albums are interesting. They can produce one hit wonders, launch long-lasting careers, or be largely forgotten. The later is, of course, what has happened to Elton John's debut Empty Sky. Yes, John would go on to be incredibly successful, but I dare say most people would be unaware of this debut and would likely point to the self-titled Elton John album as his debut. Regardless, if you are reading this then it is not too late to check out Empty Sky and can hear the true origins of one of the greatest musicians in history.

Besides Skyline Pigeon, most people, even casual fans, would not have heard the songs off this album as they seldom appear on John’s live performances or career perspective compilations. It is truly a shame as there is plenty to appreciate here. The album is beautifully recorded and mastered, even though the edition used for this review was the 1995 remaster. We must remember, however, that remaster wasn’t always such a dirty word. It did, initially at least, have noble intentions.

The album artwork is gorgeous and screams of the need to own a copy on vinyl. While it was reissued in September 2017, it is important to note the bonus tracks are not included on the vinyl release. I'm normally a stickler for original track listings, but in this case I feel the bonus tracks add depth to the album and most likely the only reason they were previously omitted was due to vinyl runtime restraints. Fingers crossed there is a download code that will include the bonus tracks, but wouldn’t it be cool if they packaged the original vinyl with a 7 or 10-inch record including those three tracks. Now, that would be a value-added proposition for fans like you and me.

Empty Sky has a great rhythm that sets the tone for the entire album. The instrumental introduction is fantastic and allows the mind to become enveloped in the tempo before John's iconic vocal is introduced. You will be toe tapping and head bopping throughout.

Val-Hala has a very regal sound to it. It is lovely, but there is a little distortion in the recording that I find distracting. I'm not sure if this was intentional, or a result of the recording and mastering techniques of the era. I had considered that it could have been an artefact of the remastering process, but if one is to believe the blurb, this remastered edition used the Sadie Digital System and Prism Super Noise Shaper that is said to only enhanced the recording. Subsequently, my only thought is that it is present on the original, especially as it is also the only song on the album that exhibits the effect. Perhaps it was done with artistic intention.

Western Ford Gateway has an absolutely sensational electric guitar riff! The vocal presentation is reminiscent of John Lennon's Imagine (album) recording style. Of course, Lennon’s album was released well over a decade later, but I find it intriguing to look back on music with present-day thoughts and wonder where the influence originated. When I hear this song I often wonder if Elton John influenced John Lennon, or if Elton took influence from Lennon's recordings with The Beatles. Even if there was no real-world correlation, it is interesting to ponder such blasphemous theories.

Hymn 2000 is an enjoyable song, but I find the flute and other musical elements detract from John's vocal delivery. It simply feels a little too busy, especially when listening on loudspeakers. Headphones, interestingly enough, limit this effect.

Lady What's Tomorrow is a nice song, but it is nothing to write home about. A classic B-side!

Sails has a rhythm rivalling Empty Sky. I love it! When I listen to this song, and so many songs from the album, I can't believe these classics have mostly been omitted from the various live performances and compilations. Granted, when you are as successful as Elton John has been, all songs can't always be revisited, but it would be wonderful to see a little more variety at times.

The Scaffold has a gorgeous tonality and rhythm. It is one of my favourite songs on the album and has an addictive chorus that compels you to sing-a-long. Absolutely Brilliant!

Skyline Pigeon is arguably the most well-known track from John's debut album and was included the exceptional compilation Diamonds (Deluxe CD and streaming editions only). The Piano Version included on Diamonds is the re-recording that was done during the Don't Shoot Me I'm Only The Piano Player sessions. It certainly has more polish than the original and John's vocals are significantly more prominent, but I do love the rawness of this original recording and if you haven't heard it, I implore you to give it a go. It is more acoustic, by comparison, but thoroughly worthwhile.

Gulliver/It's Hay Chewed (Reprise Version) is an interesting song that closes out the original release. It isn't bad, but the intermingling of songs is somewhat distracting and I feel Skyline Pigeon would have been the perfect song to conclude the album with. That said, the first few minutes of Gulliver/It's Hay Chewed is excellent.

Lady Samantha is a solid bonus track with exceptional musicality. It is a shame it didn't make the core album.

All Across The Havens is most certainly a B-side. Perfectly adequate but I can understand why this song didn't make the initial cut. It has a great rhythm to it, however.

It's Me That You Need has an incredibly gorgeous vocal track. I also love the musical elements and it is yet another track that shows just how successful Elton John was to become.

Just Like Strange Rain isn't bad, but it isn't great either. While I’m glad it’s on the remastered CD/ digital release, it isn't overly compelling and fails to generate the interest I believe is required to listen to the album again. That said, l know how good the rest of the album is and therefore I'm going back for another listen.

Overall, Empty Sky is one Elton John album that you simply must own or have within your streaming music library. It is timeless and will likely always remain that way. 

This review is based on the 1995 remastered CD on TIDAL Hi-Fi. While I remain interested in the vinyl reissue, I find the album on TIDAL Hi-Fi is sonically perfect. That said, the collector in me is already wanting to reach out to Piers (mataurecords.com.au) and ask him to order me a copy.

Elton John's Empty Sky is available to own on Vinyl and CD, or digitally from the TIDAL Store (16/44.1 kHz FLAC) or iTunes.

If you prefer streaming, you can check the album out on Spotify or Apple Music.

Click here to read other Elton John reviews by Subjective Sounds.

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