Saturday, January 14, 2012
Written by General Jabbo
In 1970, Elvis Presley was arguably at the peak of his second great period. He was still riding high from the success of the '68 Comeback Special, and his 1969 album, From Elvis In Memphis, had freed him from the second-rate movie soundtrack songs he had been forced to record for too long. On top of that, he had made a triumphant — and long overdue — return to the concert stage. Presley was back on top and needed to make another big musical statement to maintain his momentum.
In the summer of 1970, Presley and his band went in the studio for some of the most fruitful sessions of the legendary singer's career. The songs culled from these sessions were enough for three albums: Elvis: That's The Way It Is, Elvis Country (I'm 10,000 Years Old) and Love Letters From Elvis with the latter two collected on the new CD Elvis Country (Legacy Edition).
Like From Elvis In Memphis, 1971's Elvis Country found the singer revisiting his roots, putting his touch on twelve tracks covering virtually every style of country. The album opens with "Snowbird," a then-recent hit for Anne Murray," that featured Presley delivering a gentle vocal against guitarist Harold Bradley's electric sitar.
"Tomorrow Never Comes" combines the bolero rhythm of Glen Campbell's version with a similar vocal to B.J. Thomas' version. Presley gives an impassioned performance, ending with a big, dramatic note. Presley revisits his Sun roots with a blistering cover of his old label mate, Jerry Lee Lewis' "Whole Lot-ta Shakin' Goin' On," attacking the song with an aggressive vocal. Lewis' famous piano has been replaced by James Burton's sizzling guitar in this version.
Presley offers a poignant, understated vocal on Willie Nelson's "Funny How Time Slips Away" and uses the lower registers of his voice to great affect on "The Fool." The band goes up-tempo on "It's Your Baby, You Rock It," a song that would not be out of place stylistically on From Elvis in Memphis.
For fans that may not know, the original album featured snippets of the rollicking "I Was Born About Ten Thousand Years Ago" interspersed between every track to tie them together. This is the way they are presented here as well. Some fans like this, others find it annoying. The songs have appeared elsewhere without these snippets, but not in the same sound quality that mastering engineer Vic Anesini has delivered here.
The problem with including Love Letters From Elvis in this collection is that it is not as strong an album as Elvis Country, which ranks among his very best. That's not to say the album doesn't have its merits, however.
The album opens with the title cut, which Presley had previously released in 1966. This is a newly recorded version, however, and in the same key with a similar arrangement. Presley gives a fine performance on this tender ballad.
"Got My Mojo Working/Keep Your Hands Off Of It" finds Presley and his band in fine form in this energetic studio jam. It's an intense track and would not be out of place on Elvis Country. Likewise, the laid-back country of "It Ain't No Big Thing (But It's Growing)" would also be at home on that album.
"Cindy, Cindy," a gritty rocker evoking the spirit of Presley's younger days is an exciting track that shows the singer could still rock out with the best of them while Presley's powerful vocal drives the pop-tinged "Heart Of Rome" — a track that would have suffered in lesser hands — to great heights. Still, adult contemporary tracks such as "Life" and "This Is Our Dance" drag the album down, preventing it from reaching the heights of its predecessor.
The CD features a number of bonus tracks of singles from the period, including the excellent "Where Did They Go, Lord" and the ballad "Rags To Riches." Both songs feature the King in fine voice. A few singles were missed however and, unlike From Elvis In Memphis (Legacy Edition) none of the mono single mixes were used either. There would have been room to include these songs in the collection. Still, the pluses outweigh the minuses here.
Elvis Country (Legacy Edition) is a must-own, if only for disc one, but there is some fine music on disc two as well. Presley was still in shape, singing well and delivering quality material. It wouldn't last, but the King at his peak is tough to beat.
Article first published as Music Review: Elvis Presley - Elvis Country (Legacy Edition) on Blogcritics.