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Elvis still a world class artist
on 29 June 2015
'GR4' is the penultimate release in the Elvis' Gold(en) Records series, and it encompasses the few years immediately prior to Elvis's 1968 comeback. Before rebuilding his reputation that year with the 'Guitar Man' single and his NBC TV special, Elvis had undeniably gone through a lean patch. His movie career had become an ignominious disaster, making The King look foolish and distracting him from his parallel vocation as a singer. This expanded version of 'GR4' is an honest one, some of its selections offering a window into the Presley organisation's calamitous short-term thinking. Strong performances such as 'Long Lonely Highway', 'Memphis, Tennessee' and 'You'll Never Walk Alone' could have been included as bonus tracks, but some guilty-pleasure tunes from those low brow movies have been chosen instead - they're an important part of the Presley story but are mostly frivolous compared with his best work. Some of the selections surviving from the original album are also below par. Elvis's version of the Ray Charles classic 'What'd I Say' was recorded on the cheap and is simply hideous. He sang his vocal to the pre-recorded backing track, so the interactive element essential to great music is missing. He sounds as if he has a cold, is overly-conspicuous in a primitive mix and it is all unworthy of such a prestigious artist. 'Ask Me' is a morose song that Elvis is known to have struggled to get a handle on before settling on a horrid, dated arrangement, and 'Just Tell Her Jim Said Hello' is hammy even by country standards. However, 'GR4' does contain some fantastic treasures. 'A Mess O' Blues', 'Witchcraft', 'Devil In Disguise' and 'Please Don't Drag That String Around' are joyful rock 'n' roll tunes, and Elvis delivers a bravura quasi-operatic vocal on the melodramatic 'Indescribably Blue'. Better still is 'It Hurts Me', arguably the outstanding overlooked Presley classic. It's a beautifully sung, heart-rending ballad that would easily hold its own on any Elvis compilation. The King also sings like a bird on the sacred tune 'Crying In The Chapel' and in a wonderfully restrained performance of 'Love Letters'. Sony/BMG wisely threaded the new additions amongst the original selections. In particular, the decision to open the CD with the infectious bonus song 'Return To Sender' really pays off. In summary, 'GR4' hints at Elvis's mid-1960's slump but should be valued chiefly for revealing the truly wonderful moments of artistry Elvis could still conjure. The boy could sing.