From 1962 to 1966 Elvis recorded hardly anything but substandard film soundtracks. He was growing increasingly frustrated with the weak material presented to him and craved a project that would harness his talent and arouse his interest: 'How Great Thou Art' was that project.
According to close friends, if he could have done, Elvis would have recorded nothing but Gospel. He would often warm-up for shows, and wind-down afterwards, by singing Gospel songs at the piano. This deep love of spiritual music shines through on this landmark album from 1967.
Presley is in tremendous voice on these songs, singing with power and dexterity, investing his performances with gravitas and sincerity. He often acts as the lead voice in a choir comprising the Jordannaires and The Imperial Quartet.
The faster numbers, such as 'Run On', 'So High', 'By And By' and 'If The Lord Wasn't Walking By My Side' have a bright, Sunday morning 'revival' atmosphere, and are delivered with bounce and brio.
But it is on the slower tracks that Elvis really excels. The tone of songs like 'Where No-one Stands Alone', 'Where Could I Go But To The Lord', 'Stand By Me' and 'Without Him' is confessional or beseeching and must have appealed to a man going through a personal and artistic crisis. His performances on these, and the outstanding title track, are deeply moving.
You don't have to be a believer (I'm an atheist myself) to enjoy, even be touched by, the songs on 'How Great Thou Art'. They present another fascinating side to Presley's musical personality, one that deserves to be better known.