Many people don’t realize that their favorite analog LPs from their youth were frequently two or three generations of copying away from the original two track masters. LPs were pressed for different markets at different plants around the world with each requiring it’s own “copy” of the original analog master tape. And sometimes this meant copies of copies of copies. And who knows how many thousands of LPs were pressed from a single plate before the one that you took home. In the United States alone, many companies had multiple pressing plants to supply various regions of the country through multiple distribution centers. Which means that with the new 96/24 downloads from original analog masters you are hearing your old favorites much closer to the source than you did back in your dorm room in the seventies or eighties (possibly with towels rolled up and stuck under the door!).
Which is what makes listening to 96/24 downloads from artists such as Elton John and The Rolling Stones that much more exciting. The 96/24 sampling is obviously a far superior “snap shot” to the tradition 44/16 CD “pictures” released in the past. It frequently sounds like you are listening to the albums for the first time as a previously unknown “veil” is lifted between the music and your ears.
And just for the “record”… I still call them “ALBUMS” whether they are downloads, CDs, or LPs!
The five albums also form a nice creative arc of Elton’s career, with each representing another high point along a path that has seen almost as many stylistic changes as he made in costumes during his late seventies “glam” period! And as the first four of the five albums were recorded in the era of high quality analog production values, the transfer to 96/24 provides richly detailed sonic portraits revealing details and textures never before heard.
The album entitled simply “Elton John” (1970) was his first release in the United States. It presents Elton as a “singer-songwriter” troubadour of the period and includes the classic “Your Song” as well as my personal favorite, “Take Me To The Pilot”. A beautiful album from beginning to end, “Elton John” is intimate, personal, heartfelt, and a great start to a long career.
“Madman Across the Water” (1971) was Elton’s third studio album in the United States and for me it is his highpoint as an artist. There is an impressionistic beauty to both the music as well as Bernie Taupin’s lyrics and every track is a classic. It includes the “hits” Tiny Dancer and Levon but it is in the title track and Indian Sunset that the album reaches its’ peak. Some of the best string arrangements of all time from Paul Buckmaster (where the orchestrations sometimes sound like massive guitar riffs) are icing on the cake to a song cycle that is truly breathtaking (Buckmaster also arranged the strings on “Elton John”). The sound at 96/24 is truly revelatory. I know this album like the back of my hand and I am hearing things now that I had never before heard. The realism of the piano, the crispness of the strings, and the wonderful Davey Johnstone mandolin playing on Holiday Inn, all come to life with magnificent clarity.
After a few albums, as Elton’s career launched into hyper-drive, he suddenly found his new arena and stadium performance venues dwarfing the intimate scale of his earlier “singer-songwriter” albums. I believe that to further accommodate these changes that he shifted his writing focus to more blatant pop songs as well as rock numbers designed to “rock the house” in front of tens of thousands of fans. Sadly, some of the earlier charm was lost, but happily it gave us some killer rock tracks and pop standards when he released his first truly HUGE album… “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” in 1973. The song Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting “out-Whos” The Who (they even covered it later!) as does “Love Lies Bleeding. And for “hits” you have the classic title track, Bennie & The Jets, as well as “Candle in the Wind”.
“Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy” (1975) was conceived as perhaps Elton’s grandest “album” statement. And although it doesn’t have the “hits” of some of his other albums, it makes up for it by perhaps being his most totally focused “concept album” of all.
Which brings us to Elton’s most recent collaboration with fellow piano legend Leon Russell released this year.
Elton has been a major fan of Russell’s since the days of his now classic Carney album in 1972, and it was very touching when he recently reached out to Russell and asked him to join him in a collaboration produced by T. Bone Burnett. While Elton brought his considerably greater fame to the assistance of Russell at a time when his career needed it, Russell contributed by pulling Elton back to his true roots (represented by the previous four albums here) and creating perhaps Elton’s most honest and natural album in decades. It’s a joy to listen to, and as it was beautifully recorded and mixed by Burnett, the download sound is exquisite.
All five albums are available as 96/24 downloads at www.HDtracks.com