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Elton John’s “Wonderful Crazy Night” reviewed

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When I first heard that Elton was going to an make upbeat album to follow up his piano-dominated “The Diving Board,” I got very excited. I heard that T Bone Burnett was once again producing and I thought, wow, this is going to be something similar to Tumbleweed Connection — and of course my hope would have been that maybe Caleb Quaye would have been brought back into the studio for something really special.

I had a chance to listen to the new album “Wonderful Crazy Night” released yesterday, and as is often the case with a new album, sometimes it takes a few listens before I really know how I feel about it.

“The Diving Board” was a case in point: on first listen, most of the songs sounded pretty much the same, but then over time I came to realize that “The Diving Board” was really one of his finest albums. It had all of the solo characteristics of an old album I remember from the 70s called “A Single Man,” but in fact was much better. “The Diving Board” became a special album to me personally because I was called home to Fresno to care for my elderly father and ended up spending a month in my old childhood bedroom. It was in that bedroom where as a teenager I listened to all of my favorite albums, and so listening to “The Diving Board” for the first time and over the next month in that same room almost transported me back in time to an era when opening and playing a new record album was a really magical event. So now when I put on “The Diving Board” and hear the opening track “Oceans Away” with the lyrics of the first verse:

I hung out with the old folks
In the hope that I’d get wise
I was trying to bridge the gap
Between the great divide

it never ceases to remind me of that last month I spent caring for my father who never did understand the music that moved me. My father passed away last year and my old bedroom is in the family home now about to be sold.

Several months ago when Elton and the band were recording “Wonderful Crazy Night” I heard that it was really going to rock, and that got me really excited; now after several months of waiting, the album is finally released.

While the album does sound different from a typical Elton John albums of the 80s or 90s, and while it is true that it’s a very upbeat album, it certainly is not a rocker like “Rock of the Westies.” **Note to T Bone: give Caleb a call!

I’m sure the album will grow on me over time, but on first listen the only truly stand out track for me is called “Blue Wonderful” (with its beautiful Sia-like video), and it sounds to me like a song from a musical; it could have been a leftover from the brilliant but sadly unsuccessful Anne Rice musical “Lestat.”

T Bone Burnett’s production is nice, and while it does sound different from other Elton John albums, I am slightly disappointed that Nigel Olsson wasn’t allowed to show off more of the amazing drums that were so prevalent in the 1970s albums, particularly the amazing drumming we heard on “Captain Fantastic.”

I’m not sure what one should expect from somebody who’s turning 69 next month and who has recorded more than thirty studio albums over a nearly fifty year career.

I think many fans are still waiting for the day when his new album knocks our socks off like the ones we remember from the 1970s. Elton is the first to admit that his day in the sun is over, and yet surprisingly he just recently returned the top 40 charts with his new song “Looking Up.” For a man who wants to slow down and spend more time with his family, which is understandable, I’m happy to open any new Elton John album he releases. But maybe, just maybe, someday he will blow our minds with the album we’ve all been waiting a very long time to hear.

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