(Pictured: Maren Morris performs at the Grammys’ tribute to Elton John broadcast earlier this week.)
Many thanks to friend of the blog Jeffrey Thames at KPFT in Houston for sending along the two new Elton John/Bernie Taupin tribute albums, Revamp, featuring pop stars, and Restoration, featuring country stars. What follows are first impressions while listening to them amidst the day’s usual fking around.
“Bennie and the Jets”/Elton with Pink and Logic. Pink sounds great, but Logic’s rap says nothing and adds nothing. (Elton’s presence, as best I can tell, is only in a processed sample from the original “Bennie and the Jets.”)
“We All Fall in Love Sometimes”/Coldplay. This is the best Coldplay performance I’ve ever heard, and whatever’s in second place isn’t close. (Spoiler: there is nothing in second place.)
“I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues”/Alessia Cara. Behold a person singing without actually using her lungs. Cara’s voice is all tongue, lips, and throat—which is a fabulously difficult way to sing.
“Candle in the Wind”/Ed Sheeran. Thanks for coming in, Ed. The check will be in the mail.
“Tiny Dancer”/Florence and the Machine. Hey Alessia, this is how a singer does it.
“Someone Saved My Life Tonight”/Mumford and Sons. As I’m not big on Mumford and Sons, I was prepared not to like this version at all but holy smokes was I wrong.
“Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word”/Mary J. Blige. I can’t say I like this, but it’s a lot more interesting than Elton’s morose original.
“Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”/Q Tip with Demi Lovato. When this started out OK, I kept waiting for it to get terrible, but it didn’t.
“Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters”/The Killers. Brandon Flowers sounds so much like Elton in spots that I thought maybe they’d sampled some lines from the original.
“Daniel”/Sam Smith. I was ready to say this was making no impression on me until the beautiful piano solo in the middle.
“Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”/Miley Cyrus. This is making no impression on me.
“Your Song”/Lady Gaga. What’s with the exaggerated enunciation? Gaga sounds like she’s trying to impersonate Barbra Streisand.
“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”/Queens of the Stone Age. More interesting than Elton’s original.
“Rocket Man”/Little Big Town. The vocal harmonies are gorgeous, although I could do without the electronic drumbeats.
“Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters”/Maren Morris. After her magnificent debut single, the soulful “My Church,” Maren Morris immediately started running away from country, and she’s been releasing singles that chase pop stardom. There’s more pop than country in her version of “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters,” but at least it sounds like she’s singing with a real band.
“Sacrifice”/Don Henley and Vince Gill. I’m not blown away by either singer’s performance, but “Sacrifice” is a beautiful song and this is a great arrangement of it.
“Take Me to the Pilot”/Brothers Osborne. What “Take Me to the Pilot” would have sounded like if Lynryd Skynryd covered it in 1977, and that’s a good thing.
“My Father’s Gun”/Miranda Lambert. Prediction: now that mainstream country has moved on from her and she doesn’t have to conform to what country radio expects, Miranda Lambert is going to blow people’s minds with what she can do.
“I Want Love”/Chris Stapleton. I’d like to hear Stapleton do “My Father’s Gun,” actually.
“Honky Cat”/Lee Ann Womack. That Lee Ann Womack is singing this song and not practically any other song in the collection isn’t the weirdest thing about this song.
“Roy Rogers”/Kacey Musgraves. I can’t think of another song in Elton’s catalog that would be a better fit for Kacey Musgraves.
“Please”/Rhonda Vincent and Dolly Parton. I tag songs in my music stash based on sound, and this is the first one from Restoration that I’ve tagged “country.” It’s also the deepest cut on the album, a song from Elton’s 1995 album Somewhere in England.
“The Bitch Is Back”/Miley Cyrus. This is fine, I guess.
“Sad Songs Say So Much”/Dierks Bentley. Thanks for coming in, Dierks. The check will be in the mail.
“This Train Don’t Stop Here Anymore”/Rosanne Cash and Emmylou Harris. I’ve heard Rosanne sing better, but if Emmylou is harmonizing with her, I’m there for it all day.
“Border Song”/Willie Nelson. Come on, people, Willie’s almost 85 damn years old. Don’t make him yell over the backing track.
Premature verdict: Going in, I expected to like Restoration more than Revamp, but I’m surprised to tell you it turned out just the opposite. Based on a first listen, the best revamp belongs to Mumford and Sons; the best restoration is Miranda Lambert’s. The best revamp on Restoration is “Honky Cat,” and the best restoration on Revamp is “Tiny Dancer.” But check back after I listen a few dozen times more.