It has been so long since EJ has offered a recording that didn't have a cloying context that it's hard not to be initially skeptical of the earnest tone of West Coast.

It has been so long since EJ has offered a recording that didn't have a cloying context that it's hard not to be initially skeptical of the earnest tone of West Coast. Is it too late for the artist to return to the pensive but vital tone of such classics as Madman Across the Water? The kneejerk reaction may be unfortunate, but close inspection of West Coast could change the mind of the most jaded listener. Producer Patrick Leonard keeps the studio gloss to a minimum, allowing the songs of John and longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin to take organic shape; this approach also empowers the artist to sing with more passion than he has in years. He's most effective on the Matthew Shepard-inspired "American Triangle" and on "The Ballad of the Boy in the Red Shoes," a heartbreaking tale of a ballet dancer recalling past glories as AIDS-related illness claims his body. Such well-wrought material could herald a creative resurrection of a much-missed master.—LF