“Not another person doing country music” is the response I got from a friend when I said I was reviewing the latest Elton John and Bernie Taupin ‘celebration’ album. I actually got quite excited though, especially seeing the roster covering these classics and, let’s be honest, you could say some of the original productions could be classed as country-rock anyway! Country music is one of the oldest ‘established’ genres but has only fairly recently been recognized as ‘cool’. Restoration is an album that definitely has the coolest of cool in country music taking on the classics of Elton and Bernie.
There is another album called Revamp that had the ‘pop’ world covering some of the classics and was certainly more Elton’s project, whereas Bernie took the helm on Restoration. I had a quick listen to Revamp and it seemed to be a bit of a mish-mash of pop’s big players like Ed Sheeran, The Killers and Coldplay and seemingly a bit dis-jointed, whereas Restoration takes on an emotive style capturing the lyrics and fitting more tightly as an album. That’s what country music does though doesn’t it; it’s a narrative form of music with feeling.
Little Big Town open this ‘Nashville’ take on Elton and Bernie, with a cover of the classic Rocket Man. It’s a cheesy yet clever take, with an almost muffled opening, mimicking sounds of a radio conversation between astronauts and Houston! However, the harmonies that Little Big Town bring make this a promising opener, if somewhat lacking in a country sound. The rest of the album however definitely explores every bit of the country genre, from the pain-staking interpretations of love, to the honky-tonk sounds and dirty riffs of spur-on cowboy boots.
Personally, Sacrifice is my favourite Elton and Bernie track. Music-wise it does not stray too far from the original and neither do the vocals of Don Henley. Strangely, Henley and Vince Gill make this song work as a duet too and the listener feels the rawness of the lyrics in their take on it. Normally when a song doesn’t stray too far from the original, it can be taken as a lazy interpretation, but once in a while you are just glad they didn’t change it up.
The grittiness in the Brothers Osborne deliverance of Take Me To The Pilot is a nice break from the heartbreak feel, as is Miley Cyrus’ The Bitch Is Back, with its comedic soundbites of a cow mooing. Miley is someone I have not taken much notice of, but it has been hard to avoid some of her movements and if you take out the animal sounds in this track, you can really hear the awesome lungs of Cyrus.
Maren Morris lends her silky smooth vocals to Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters, and Miranda Lambert makes you feel every word on My Father’s Gun. Lee Ann Womack does an almost acappella version of Honky Cat and it feels like she is sitting right next to you – now that would be something. Kacy Musgraves takes on Roy Rogers the way only Kacy Musgraves can, and by that I mean whatever she lends herself to it seems she can do no wrong. The legends that are Dolly Parton and Rhonda Vincent bring their bluegrass sass to Please, whilst Willie Nelson offers a great take on Border Song as he closes the album with an extra kick on the instruments.
An album jam-packed with hits and big names taking on one of music’s finest partnerships is what Restoration is. It’s an album that sits well anywhere and you would be hard pressed to find a song to skip. Songs to put on repeat however? I could give you three…Dierks Bentley’s Sad Songs (Say So Much), Rosanne Cash and Emmylou Harris’ take on This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore, and Chris Stapleton’s cover of I Want Love are all particularly sensational. Why? Simply put, the vocals and arrangements are pretty much perfect. Stapleton edges it slightly out of the three, and as I type this I can actually feel myself welling up inside.
If you want to revisit the music of Elton John and Bernie Taupin, you can definitely do no wrong with Restoration. It is a true celebration by some wonderful artists, whether you admit to liking country music or not!