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Elton John has a new ‘Jewel Box’ for all his diamonds in the rough

UPDATED: Thu., Nov. 19, 2020

No top-tier recording artist has performed in Spokane as often as Sir Elton John has over the last 20 years. John, who released his latest eight-CD box set, “Elton: Jewel Box,” on Nov. 13, has performed at the Spokane Arena in May 1999, April 2011, September 2014 and March 2017.

The unparalleled vocalist-pianist, who has sold more than 300 million albums, played back-to-back nights at Beasley Coliseum in Pullman in 2008 and the Yakima Valley SunDome in 2010.

“It’s kind of like when Paul McCartney played in Missoula and Fargo (in 2014),” 4000 Holes owner Bob Gallagher said.

The longtime record shop proprietor caught three of John’s most recent concerts at the Spokane Arena.

“The shows were great,” Gallagher said. “He’s amazing live and so humble considering all that he has accomplished.”

Fans can learn all about John’s under-the-radar accomplishments courtesy of “Jewel Box.” The highlights are deep cuts and rarities, which comprise much of the box set. The collection is a far cry from John’s “Diamonds,” a 2017 box set filled with an endless array of hits.

If you’re looking for chart-toppers such as “Daniel,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and “I’m Still Standing,” then “Diamonds” is meant for you.

If you’re an ardent fan of the consistently terrific entertainer, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, then check out “Jewel Box,” which is aptly named since it features a number of diamonds in the rough.

“Jewel Box” isn’t for everybody, but those who analyze and love John will enjoy the many demos. The songs, which were on their way to fruition, show how John and his longtime lyrical partner, Bernie Taupin, went from fledgling songsmiths to arguably the finest in the business during the 1970s when John became a superstar.

It’s fascinating listening to how great some of the John/Taupin compositions are that were created between 1967 and 1969 when the world had yet to hear of John.

Sixty of the 148 songs from “Jewel Box” were never released. Almost each of those cuts deserves to see the light of day, particularly the ballads.

“Tartan Coloured Lady” is a somber gem. “When I Was Tealby Abbey” offers a sneak peek of the pop-rocker hits that were on the horizon. “Two of a Kind” is a bouncy keeper. “Philadelphia Freedom” is one of the few hits to grace the set.

But we’ve heard the familiar tunes so often that they are akin to the soundtrack of our lives. It’s still nice to hear “Crocodile Rock” and “Tiny Dancer,” but it’s even more of a joy to listen to the formative material. It’s fun as a fan to connect the dots and see how a misunderstood kid from Middlesex, England, became the biggest pop star in the world.

The audacious John is far more creative than we imagined. There was an alternative universe that John lived in that is mind-blowing. A number of the unreleased songs could have been hits. It’s a blast to sit back and listen to what John left in storage and wonder what would have hit the charts.

There’s never been anyone like John in the world of pop music, which is fascinating considering how many successful recording artists have been emulated. For instance, how long is the list of singers who have aped Eddie Vedder?

But John is beyond formula. He is a charismatic and uncommon musician who cranked out melodic ear-turners as if they were falling off the Tin Pan Alley assembly line during his 1970s heyday.

There was no songwriting team like John and Taupin, and there is no entertainer quite like the former. John’s set list changes every tour. Why should he play the same 25 hits when he has so many smashes to draw from for concerts?

Some tours, “Daniel” will be delivered, and some tours fans will experience “Sad Songs (Say So Much).” John is on what he says is his final jaunt. Dates were still being added when the coronavirus shut down the music industry.

Whenever normalcy returns, it’ll be curious to see if John plays the Spokane Arena one last time.

If John does come back, it would be cool if he added a song he has never played live from “Jewel Box.”

In 2014, John dusted off “All the Girls Love Alice.” It’s not always about the hits for John, and what’s cooler is that it’s not always about the major markets for the Rocket Man.

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