If the early-1970 'Elton John' album wrapped its listeners up in the warm embrace of the British Isles – with its idyllically-orchestrated references to countryside villages, ancient churches and royalty – then Elton’s follow-up just six months later, 'Tumbleweed Connection', thrust anyone within earshot 5,000 miles westward.
Now reissued on 180gm vinyl and remastered by Grammy Award winning mastering engineer, Bob Ludwig, Elton’s third studio album (his second in the States) took its listeners on an Americana adventure for which Elton and lyricist Bernie Taupin served as tour guides. Amazingly, the pair wrote and recorded the entire album a full five months before they so much as stepped foot in the United States. Belying its aural DNA, Tumbleweed Connection was tracked at Trident Studios in Soho, London, where The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Queen, David Bowie and many other British acts recorded some of their most important material.
Even without the benefit of a hit single, Tumbleweed Connection still achieved a #2 position on the UK Albums Chart, staying on for 20 weeks starting 16 January 1971. A week later, the album began an eight-month run on the Billboard Top 200, spending four weeks at #5 and joining three other Elton albums on the chart during the spring of 1971. In 2012, Rolling Stone magazine included it as one of five Elton titles on their “500 Greatest Albums of All Time.”
Heavily inspired by The Band and the piano playing of Leon Russell (Tumbleweed wound up being a 40-year prequel to Elton and Leon’s The Union), the album’s ten songs also evoked the Rolling Stones, Van Morrison and lesser-known American songwriter David Ackles, to whom Talking Old Soldiers was dedicated and for whom Bernie would produce an album in 1972.
Overseen by producer Gus Dudgeon, engineer Robin Geoffrey Cable, and arranger Paul Buckmaster, the album in many ways embodied the musical equivalent of its sepia-tinted cover photo. The casual observer would be forgiven if he thought that the image had been found in a dusty collection of American Old West historical prints. In fact, the pictures on the cover and in the attached booklet of lyrics and credits, a first for an Elton album, were taken at Sheffield Park station, 30 miles south of London, and during a train ride along its associated Bluebell Railway.
Upon its release, Tumbleweed connected with music critics on both sides of the Atlantic. Bill McAllister, writing in the British music weekly Record Mirror, announced it was, “Without question my favourite album of all time.” Other UK writers called it, “a knockout”, “a gas”, and, “truly a masterpiece [that] will stand head and shoulders above most in years to come.” In the Los Angeles Times, Robert Hilburn exclaimed, “Tumbleweed Connection is that near-perfect album that artists often spend a whole career trying to produce.”
With accolades like that, it is easy to understand why Tumbleweed Connection has remained a favourite amongst Elton fans, and why it now claims its rightful place in the ever-growing collection of Elton vinyl album reissues. Tumbleweed is also now available as part of The Elton John Vinyl Club 2017.