Thursday, 23 August 2018
Elton John - The Complete Thom Bell Sessions (1979)
Released June 1979
Recorded in Seattle, mastered in Philadelphia
A few months before the totally disastrous, half-baked disco excursion that was "Victim Of Love", Elton John recorded the six tracks that appear on this appealing album in Seattle with legendary "Philly" producer Thom Bell and they were remixed in Philadelphia. They are much better than the "Victim Of Love" material. Full of sweeping Philadelphia strings and sumptuous backing. Elton's band was not used and the backing vocals were provided by members of The Detroit Spinners. Them Bell apparently coached Elton in how to make his voice more soulful.
"Nice and Slow" is an upbeat soul song that was actually written by Elton and Bernie Taupin. On this, and on the next track, "Country Love Song", Elton adopts a high-pitched nasal vocal slightly different from the deeper tone he had used on his previous album, 1978's "A Single Man". On this song his voice, tone and phrasing sound identical to that on many contemporary Detroit Spinners recordings such as "Then Came You" and "Lazy Susan".
"Shine On Through" from "A Single Man" is included from these sessions. At the point when the drums kick in on that album, it has a much quieter rise in sound here, with plucked strings, subtle cymbal percussion and a melodic string backing. It is orchestrated soul here, not a piano-driven full band rock ballad. I like both versions, but this one maybe just edges it, particularly with the instrumental break and gospel choir in the middle helping to swing it. "Mama Can't Buy You Love" is a relatively uptempo soulful number that a Elton trying to "soften" his voice. Teddy Pendergrass or Billy Paul he ain't, however. He was probably best sticking to his original bluesy Elton voice, to be honest. This doesn't really work for me, despite being a pleasant song with a good hook.
"Are You Ready For Love?" is just great and many people know it now, due to its popularity in later years. The Detroit Spinners did it first, of course, and their influence is all over it. It has a great funky break at the end of it. "Three Way Love Affair" is another excellent soul song that probably would have been better in the hands of a "proper" soul singer. Don't get me wrong, Elton's performance is ok, but that's all it is - ok. It was a interesting experiment, but Elton John was made for different material. We knew it and he knew it too.
- August 23, 2018