Following last year's release of the "Today, Tomorrow & Forever" box, RCA/BMG Heritage strikes again with yet another classy 4 CD-box, containing nothing less than 89 tracks of unreleased Elvis Presley material. "Close Up" is definitely less ambitious than its predecessor, which aimed to cover the whole of Elvis' career, but focuses on some more or less interesting periods from the King's cornucopian recorded legacy.
Disc # 1 features 20 songs from 1957, mostly taken from the "Loving You" and "Jailhouse Rock" sessions, released here in primitive (binaural) stereo. Since "The Essential Elvis, Vol. 2, 1957" these takes no longer contain any surprises, even if all the material Elvis recorded then is rock solid. Some masters can be heard now in stereo ("Is It So Strange", "Blueberry Hill", "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You", "Jailhouse Rock"), but I doubt whether these reveal anything more about the songs. They were great as they were. The outtakes released here are fascinating stuff, though (especially "Treat Me Nice", and more takes of "Young and Beautiful" and "Loving You").
Disc # 2 has 25 outtakes from Elvis' early `60s movies "G.I. Blues", "Flaming Star", "Wild In The Country", and "Blue Hawaii". Even if the material is not always of the highest order, Elvis' voice was superb in those years (the songs for "Wild In The Country" are particularly appealing) and this disc gives further insight in the "live-in-the-studio" recording manner which Elvis continued to uphold, with sometimes endless takes until the final "perfect" cut was nailed down.
Disc # 3 is to my mind the most interesting of the box with 21 outtakes from the ever outstanding Nashville studio sessions, covering the period from 1960 to 1968. Like some of the releases in the "Follow That Dream" collector's label ("Long Lonely Highway", "Fame And Fortune", and most recently "Studio B") this disc browses through some of Elvis' most distinguished recordings of his career. >From the opening take 1 of "Make Me Know It" by way of the hits "Surrender", "His Latest Flame" and "Ask Me" to the closing "U.S. Male" almost eight years later, this is required listening for anyone interested in sixties rock, country, pop and gospel.
Disc # 4 presents the complete concert recorded on April 18, 1972 in San Antonio, Texas, parts of which have been used in the 1972 "Elvis On Tour" rockumentary, sadly, totally overlooked last year. The sound quality and the present mix are top notch. (What are you waiting for RCA/BMG to release the other taped concerts?) It is a pretty straightforward, if none too surprising concert (repertoire-wise), yet with Elvis in good spirits and good voice, virtually bringing the house down. The hysteria the man could still generate, as witnessed by this concert, is quite thrilling. Great versions of "Suspicious Minds", and of the new songs "For The Good Times" and "Burning Love".
"Close Up" is presented on four differently coloured discs, linked to the four chapters in the 48-page book, with excellent liner notes by Colin Escott. It contains a good selection of photos and among others useful introductions of the leading Nashville studio musicians of the sixties. Guitarists like Hank Garland, Jerry Kennedy, Grady Martin, Chip Young, and pianist Floyd Cramer, previously remained mostly uncredited, but nonetheless helped to shape Elvis' music for one of the longest periods of his career.
Running between 49 and 66 minutes the 4 CDs are not exactly over-generous, but all songs are presented in excellent sound quality. Even if "Close Up" doesn't hold any more surprises or real revelations (but then again, who could expect any more after all these years?), anyone interested in Elvis' recorded legacy, indeed the most remarkable and influential in popular music, doesn't need to hesitate.