By no way I would consider Elton John a country rocker, not by a long shot. However, this early work of his definatly was influenced by the 70's country rock scene.
Elton John put out four or five of the best "rock" albums of rock's classic era. "Tumbleweed Connection" is the finest of them all, but it is the most neglected because no song off it shows up on a Greatest Hits package. Not because the album "failed" to produce a single, but because there is not one song on it that sounds like an artistic compromise, or playing for the galleries. While not exactly a "concept album," it is clearly meant to be played all at once. It sustains a mood, and is adroitly balanced between some pretty hard rockers, some gorgeous love balladry, and a couple of songs that perfectly reflect the questing, questioning qualities of rock at its most meaningful--"My Father's Gun" and especially "Where To Now, St. Peter?"
Like so many albums of the early 1970s, "Tumbleweed Connection" was heavily influenced by The Band. The lyrics also borrow heavily from the Bob Dylan of "John Wesley Harding," and the words Robert Hunter contributed to the Grateful Dead for "American Beauty" and "Workingman's Dead." The old-west/Civil War atmosphere is so thick, it is reflected in the sepia-toned packaging. The packaging also gives prominence to Taupin, underscoring that this album is a collaboration.
But it wouldn't be a great album without the artistry that Elton John brought to it as a songwriter, singer and pianist. The piano-playing is especially strong on this disk, and his singing is powerful, emotional, real; none of the archness or forced irony that started to infect his work a few years later. The piano is mixed right up front on most tracks, and is stunningly great. The guitar is rock's signature instrument, but the piano has a long tradition too, from Fats Domino and Little Richard, to brilliant sidemen like Roy Bittan and Nicky Hopkins. On this album, Elton tops them all. This record is to rock piano what "Electric Ladyland" is to the guitar.
Tumbleweed Connection is the one that really fits in w/ the rootsy Americana of the time, as espoused by Dylan, Neil Young, CSN, and of course, The Band.
I find the first 4 songs good, but way too derivative to the above-mentioned. "My Father's Gun" starts to get interesting. Still indebted to Robbie Robertson, but somehow different. Then "Where to now St. Peter?" is one of the album's best songs. It starts quiet, throws in weird electric guitar, changes tempo & takes you on a wild ride. "Love Song" is the closest Elton will ever come to sounding like Crosby, Stills & Nash. There's a vaguely "Gunnevere" haunting feeling to it & nice harmonies. Next we get the stone-cold classic "Amoreena". Funky piano, beautiful chord changes. This deserves to be among Elton's ten best tunes ever (along w/ "Levon", "Grey Seal"). Skip the good but nondescript "Talking Old Soldiers" & we're back to the top ten of John/Taupin songwriting: "Burn Down the Mission". This song is so good it has a pre-chorus hook & a chorus hook. The lyrics owe completely to "King Harvest" & "Unfaithful Servant" by The Band, but it works--totally.