Review: Pop, country stars cover Elton John & Bernie Taupin
Various Artists, “Revamp” (Island Records); Various Artists, “Restoration” (UMG Nashville)
Considering the quality of the songwriting partnership combining Elton John’s music with Bernie Taupin’s lyrics and that the song selection on these two tribute albums is, with some exceptions, a collection of fairly clear-cut covers of their biggest hits, your level of enjoyment will depend mostly on your like, dislike, tolerance or rejection of the contributors.
Sir Elton curated “Revamp,” which gathers versions by inhabitants of the rock and pop worlds, from Lady Gaga and Mary J. Blige to Coldplay, Sam Smith and The Killers, and opens with Pink, Logic and a John cameo on “Bennie and the Jets.”
Highlights include Florence + The Machine’s take on “Tiny Dancer,” Queens of the Stone Age surprisingly contained “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and Sam Smith’s “Daniel.”
“Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” by Mary J. Blige and “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” by Q-Tip featuring Demi Lovato probably veer farthest from the originals but if the musical backing is a bit clouded, the passion of the vocals still shines through. Meanwhile, Ed Sheeran reclaims “Candle in the Wind” for Marilyn Monroe.
Taupin took “Restoration” under his wings and its versions by country artists is rooted in the fact that more than a handful of his and John’s songs shared a strong kinship with what’s now called Americana. It also results in the profounder album of the two.
Miranda Lambert carries with grace the emotions behind “My Father’s Gun,” about a Confederate soldier returning to battle after burying his dad, while Lee Ann Womack is an ideal choice for the groovy “Honky Cat.” Vince Gill and Don Henley polish “Sacrifice” and Rosanne Cash shares “This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore” with Emmylou Harris.
Chris Stapleton sings “I Want Love” like it’s his own, Kacey Musgraves serenades late-night TV on “Roy Rogers” while Rhonda Vincent and Dolly Parton turn “Please” into fine bluegrass. It all ends with Willie Nelson sounding as timeworn and wise as Moses himself on “Border Song.”