Though Elton John’s new album, “The Diving Board,” doesn’t come out until the fall, he previewed it for a handful of reporters on Friday at Los Angeles‘ The Village recording studio. “I’m not the sort of artist who will get played on radio,” he admitted, adding he will also be out of the country for quite some time on tour, so he wanted to start to spread the word of the project now.
John, in a blue Adidas track suit, prefaced the playback by calling “The Diving Board” the most “piano-orientated album” he’s ever made (and that’s saying a lot), and the logical follow-up to 2010’s Grammy-nominated project with Leon Russell, “The Union.” John was then silent as he sat at the console in producer T Bone Burnett’s studio for the 13-song album, other than to clap his hands along with the dynamic “Take This Dirty Water” and play air piano to “Voyeur,” which sounds like a cut straight out of 1971’s “Madman Across the Water.”
Over two writing and recording sessions a year apart —the first in January 2012 and the second in January 2103— John took longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin’s lyrics, some of his most cinematic, and wrote 15 songs in 5 days and then recorded the basic tracks just as quickly.
It was the first time he’s ever had the luxury of revisiting tracks after such a hiatus. “The time enabled us to go back and put a little sugar on it. Make it a little Eltonized,” he said.
The core band on the project is drummer Jay Bellerose and bassist Raphael Saadiq. John also pointed out that percussionist Jack Ashford, the Motown great who played on such tracks as Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” also performs throughout the album.
The album sounds broadly expansive at times, such as on the rollicking, galloping “Mexican Vacation,” and then shatteringly intimate at others, such as on the yearning ballad “Home Again.”
“It’s got everything I love about American music,” John said of the album. “Gospel, soul, country, and brass arrangements like New Orleans.”
Three of the songs are prefaced with solo piano interludes, including a jazzy Weather Report-like intro before the title track. “Those were improvised in one take,” John said.
The album is one of two high-profile releases John has coming this year: This fall will also see the 40th anniversary reissue of his 1973 masterpiece, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” In addition to the remastered recording, the release will come with remakes of eight of the album’s songs by contemporary artists. Peter Asher is producing the new tracks.
And FYI, John, who played “The A-Team” on the Grammys with Ed Sheeran, loved the Grammy Award telecast’s performances by Jack White and Miguel, and raved about Adam Levine’s voice.
"The Diving Board" track listing
"Oscar Wilde Gets Out"
"A Town Called Jubilee"
"The Ballad of Blind Tom"
"Can't Stay Alone Tonight"
"Take This Dirty Water"
"The New Fever Waltz"
"Mexican Vacation (Kids in the Candlelight)"
"The Diving Board"