The often-underrated album that Elton John made partly in one of his adopted homes, Atlanta, and named after a street in the city, Peachtree Road, was released on 9 November 2004. It holds a special place in his catalogue not only for the several lesser-known gems it contains, but for being the only album on which Elton is credited as sole producer.
The 27th studio release of what was, by then, a discography that spanned more than 35 years’ worth of recording, Peachtree Road took its title from the vast Highway 141 that crosses Atlanta from south-west to north-east. The local studios that Elton used were Silent Sound, to the north, and Tree Sound, in the northeastern corner of the city, a complex that has also played host to Whitney Houston, Lenny Kravitz and scores of others. The more familiar Record Plant in Los Angeles also hosted some of the sessions.
Those dates featured longtime workmates such as guitarist Davey Johnstone and drummer Nigel Olsson, as well as later band members Guy Babylon, Bob Birch and John Mahon. But there was one notably absent friend, as reflected in a special entry in the album credits: Elton dedicated the album to Gus Dudgeon, his early producer and faithful champion, and Dudgeon’s wife Sheila, who were killed in a car accident in 2002.
“I’m amazed that I’m still around”
Peachtree Road was far from being one of the singer-songwriter’s biggest discs, but it has a deservedly devoted following among his fanbase, with its fine blend of Elton’s usual pop-rock style and a distinct flavour of the American south. The album’s first single outside North America was ‘All That I’m Allowed (I’m Thankful)’, a UK No.20 hit which typified the serene and reflective nature of many of Bernie Taupin’s lyrics for the set.
‘Answer In The Sky’ took the lead as the flagship track in the US, its opening strings seemingly a nod to ‘Philadelphia Freedom’. The spiritual sentiment sounded another note of optimism, enhanced by a gospel-style choir of some eight singers. When Peachtree Road arrived, that positivity shone through on the opening cut, ‘Weight Of The World’, on which Taupin, as so often, managed to capture the voice of his longtime collaborator on a song about personal salvation. “Fortune and fame is so fleeting these days,” Elton sang. “I’m happy to say I’m amazed that I’m still around.”
The recurring southern flavour came through on ‘Porch Swing In Tupelo’ and the upbeat, playful ‘They Call Her The Cat’. Also of great note was ‘Turn The Lights Out When You Leave’, a specific nod to the country-music tradition that Elton and Bernie always loved so well. So authentically did it capture the country mood that John went on to perform the song with Dolly Parton at the following year’s CMA Awards.
Peachtree Road also included the dark, atmospheric, bluesy ballad ‘My Elusive Drug’, which recalled the late-night supper-club mood that the star has sometimes used, notably on tracks from Blue Moves, such as the equally impressive ‘Idol’. The affirmative contemplation returned on the love song ‘I Stop And I Breathe’, and elsewhere there were A-list contributions from the revered horn section who co-founded the great American band Chicago, Walter Parazaider, James Pankow and Lee Loughnane.
“A statement of survival”
Reviews of the album were positive, mostly noting that Peachtree Road maintained the fine form of its predecessor, 2001’s, Songs From The West Coast, and some tracing a musical line all the way back to Tumbleweed Connection. Robert Hilburn, in the Los Angeles Times, avowed: “There’s such a sweet, melancholy edge to the CD’s best songs that they could serve as an engaging centerpiece if John wanted to boldly update his live shows.
“‘Weight Of The World’ is a statement of survival in the ‘I’m Still Standing’ tradition, only more subdued and, ultimately, more human,” Hilburn continued. “‘Turn The Lights Out When You Leave’ is such a wry and wacky country breakup song that George Jones ought to record it as soon as he can get into a studio, while ‘Answer In The Sky’ is one of [John and Taupin’s] rare spiritual reflections.”
Peachtree Road made it to No.21 in Elton’s home country and No.17 in the US, where it was gold by the end of 2004. A four-DVD box set entitled Dream Ticket was released around the same time as the album, containing three concerts and a new documentary covering four decades of Elton’s illustrious career.
The album itself had something of a lap of honour in 2005, when it was reissued with a different cover, and with three bonus tracks from Elton’s next songwriting project, Billy Elliot: The Musical. An accompanying DVD offered nine live tracks from the album, as performed, appropriately, in Atlanta. The Billy Elliot ballad ‘Electricity’, one of those songs added to the album, became a No.4 UK single that summer.
Peachtree Road can be bought here.