Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Kneejerk: Fran Healy – Elton John and Leon Russell

Welcome to the latest edition of KNEEJERK, where we preview some new releases and give our short, "kneejerk" reaction...


“WRECKORDER” is the solo debut from Fran Healy, the lead singer and songwriter of the Scottish rock band Travis. Travis made quite the splash in the late 90s and early 2000s with their breakthrough CD, “The Man Who” and equally excellent follow-up, “The Invisible Band”. Little did we know how prescient that title was, as Travis quickly fell off the radar. The good news is that Healy’s first solo outing is more or less a return to what made Travis successful back in the day. While not a perfect record, it feels more like the legitimate successor to “The Invisible Band” than the gloomy “12 Memories”. Healy’s vulnerable voice charms on melodious tracks like “In the Morning” and “Holiday”. “Sing Me To Sleep”, a duet with Neko Case, is another atmospheric gem. “Anything” is my favorite track in this 10 song collection, a sweeping piece beautifully sung and well orchestrated. The first single, “Buttercups” is a close second, featuring crisp acoustic guitar that pairs perfectly with Healy’s vocals. Not all of “WRECKORDER” is light and easy on the ears - tunes like “Fly in the Ointment” and “Shadow Boxing” are distinctly darker in tone. Ironically, they are less interesting and forgettable. Healy begins a tour with Brandon Flowers of The Killers on November 10.

Elton John and Leon Russell “The Union”

Everyone knows Elton John, but I doubt half the number know of Leon Russell. Russell has played for just about everyone in the music business across multiple genres and had a string of modest chart successes in the 70s. Although he’s been more behind the scenes than Elton John, Russell has earned an esteemed reputation as a session player and songwriter. These two icons, both having their heyday in the 70s, have teamed up to create this record with T Bone Burnett producing and a boatload of guest talent including Neil Young, Brian Wilson, and Don Was. “The Union” generally captures many elements from 70s piano rock, and continues along the path that Elton committed himself to with the outstanding back-to-basics ethics of “Songs From The West Coast”. The two seem to play off one another, rejuvenating their vigor in the performances, which can best be felt on Elton’s enthusiastic singing of “Hey Ahab”, Russell’s sly delivery of “If It Wasn’t For Bad”. With a couple country-flavored tunes (“Jimmie Rodgers' Dream”), honky tonk (“Monkey Suit”), and the typical Elton John balladry (“Never Too Old (To Hold Somebody)”), there’s a little something for everyone here. The fun these two had in making “The Union” is contagious, providing the listener with a thrilling experience, especially those fans of 70s era rock.