Various Artists, Revamp: Reimagining the Songs of Elton John and Bernie Taupin | ★★★
Various Artists, Restoration: Reimagining the Songs of Elton John and Bernie Taupin | ★★★★
There’s a valedictory air hovering over these Elton John tribute albums, and no wonder: John recently announced his final tour, the capper to nearly 50 years of global barnstorming. Do the twin anthologies say anything new about indomitable Sir Elton? Some lessons are obvious: John’s songbook is fathoms deep; his melodies are sturdy and capacious enough to withstand whatever’s tossed their way; Bernie Taupin’s lyrics are lovable despite and because they’re gonzo gibberish.
The best moments on Revamp, featuring big names from pop, rock and R&B, are those least faithful to the originals: Q-Tip and Demi Lovato remake “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” as percolating funk, Mary J. Blige deepens the ache of “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” while transmuting it into flickering nu-R&B. Less successful are efforts of John’s glam-pop heirs, like Lady Gaga, who tries and fails to match the master’s rococo ebullience. As for the country-themed Restoration: It’s a revelation. Tyros (Maren Morris) and legends (Dolly Parton) mine deep cuts to reveal in John’s songs a very country strain of stoic melancholy. Miranda Lambert delivers a stormy “My Father’s Gun”; Don Henley and Vince Gill wring pathos from the divorce lament “Sacrifice,” one of John’s loveliest tunes. The album concludes with Willie Nelson’s quietly epic ramble through “Border Song” – one 20th century legend welcoming another to music’s Mt. Olympus. Nice view from up there.