My brother called me the other day after seeing a TV ad for Elton John’s new Jewel Box collection, questioning how after all these years and so many albums and compilations that there could still be 60 previously unreleased songs? “How could that be?” he asked rightly, dubiously. I replied, not even knowing much about the set yet, without missing a beat: “It’s easy!”
And then I went on to explain what many songwriters (myself included) know: you have to write many simple and seemingly inconsequential tunes to get to the point where you can write truly great songs for the ages.
I understand my brother’s incredulity because here in America, Sir Elton came out fully formed seemingly right out the gate delivering an instant classic worthy of a Beatle record, “Your Song” and a dizzying barrage of increasingly amazing albums, especially between 1970 and 1976.
To get to that point Elton, did a lot of hard work beforehand and that is where Jewel Box: Rarities & B-Sides fills an important space in Elton’s discography. Sure, there have been numerous collections over the years such as 1992’s great two CD set called Rare Masters which had many B-sides and rarities on it as did To Be Continued (from 1990).
But here on Jewel Box: Rarities & B-Sides across three lovely 180-gram, dead quiet and perfectly centered black vinyl LPs we get a striking audio documentary of Elton’s formative years. Beginning with his first single in 1966 when he was still called Reg Dwight, piano player and vocalist in a band called Bluesology, we get to hear “Come Back Baby.” Along the way you’ll hear Elton’s first song written with Bernie Taupin called “Scarecrow”
There are many raw piano and basic band demos here and across the years you start to hear the Elton John sound we know and love emerge. Even when aping pop flavors of the late 60s on a song like “Angel Tree,” we hear that sense of melody and tunefulness coming through. Parts of “Here’s To The Next Time” could be dropped into any of Elton’s ‘70s albums.
Some of the best sounding songs are on the last album in the three LP set. “Taking The Sun From My Eyes” sounds like a lost Tom Jones outtake (think an alternate view on his smash hit “It’s Not Unusual”). There are some wonderful piano demos of songs from his first albums including “Amoreena” and the unreleased out-take “Rolling Western Union” from the Tumbleweed Connection period as well as a demo of “Madman Across the Water.”
The last side in the set is a bit of a teaser in that it fills out the set with a handful of B-sides from later in Elton’s career (1976-2005). According to the incredibly detailed liner notes, its purpose is to “give a flavor of the 36 B-sides that are presented on the Jewel Box” CD set.
So, yes fans, you really do need to hear the full set. I hope to get a copy soon and will review it accordingly as a follow on to this review. For now, you can hear the Jewel Box album streaming on Qobuz (click here) and Tidal (click here). But if you are a vinyl fan and want to read the full story, the three LP Jewel Box: Rarities & B-Sides is the way to go on this material.