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by Justin Farrar

September 26, 2013

Elton Gets Back to His Roots

by Justin Farrar  |  September 26, 2013

Produced by Americana tastemaker T Bone Burnett, The Diving Board is Elton John's "return to roots" set. Beginning in 1994, with Johnny Cash's American Recordings, this trend has claimed numerous icons through the years, from Neil Diamond and B.B. King to Mavis Staples and Dr. John. And now it's Sir Elton's turn -- but with a twist. Instead of returning to the ostentatious glam-pop of his commercial peak (Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Caribou), John digs even deeper into his storied career.

Indeed, The Diving Board's stripped-down blend of gospel-flavored pop, singer-songwriter introspection and progressive composition recalls the work found on the legend's very earliest full-lengths: Empty Sky, Elton John, Tumbleweed Connection, Madman Across the Water and (though not all of it) Honky Château. A lot of years have gone by, obviously. John's voice is now husky and knowing, plus he and collaborator Bernie Taupin aren't nearly as audacious in their songwriting. But make no mistake: This is a complex and at times dark set of tunes. As with vintage John-Taupin, the stories they tell are sprawling metaphors that frequently use the American South and heartland for setting and folklore.

To give you a fuller sense of where exactly The Diving Board is coming from, our Elton Gets Back to His Roots playlist juxtaposes the album's 15 cuts with key tracks from John's formative years. Hopefully, this approach will give you a fuller appreciation of the new record, as well as its relation to John's artistic evolution over the decades.

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