The voice is deeper and more sonorous than it was 40 years ago, but there’s an undeniable air of familiarity to Elton John’s first album since 2010’s Leon Russell collaboration The Union. T Bone Burnett is once again in the producer’s chair but, even more than the Russell hook-up, this is the sound of Elton touching base with his past.
Led by his most eloquent piano-playing in years, and augmented by a small, unobtrusive band, The Diving Board is possessed by the ghosts of such early high watermarks as Tumbleweed Connection and Madman Across The Water. Certainly, the former is the touchstone for Bernie Taupin’s lyrics, alluding, indirectly or otherwise, to a mythical west (Town Called Jubilee, Ballad Of Blind Tom).
Beyond his own fledgling catalogue, the no-frills melodies owe much to Elton’s own early influences such as David Ackles or Randy Newman, discreet window-dressing for the confessional tone of the words. It may be too reserved for excitable fans hoping for I’m Still Standing sequels, but the purity and simplicity of this unadorned balladry (Can’t Stay Alone Tonight, The New Fever Waltz) may bring many who fell by the wayside back into the fold.