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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Elvis chose them, 5 Jan. 2012
This review is from: Elvis Country (Legacy Edition) (Audio CD)
The original "Elvis Country" LP was the last great Presley studio album though amongst his later releases it's far less well known than either the "1968 Comeback Special" or "From Elvis in Memphis" let alone the Vegas performance albums which seem to have a popularity all of their own. It's been packaged in a number of different ways over the years. This is the latest of those and like other legacy editions it features the main album, a follow-up plus extra tracks. The follow-up in this case was "Love Letters".

The material all comes from fruitful sessions held in RCA Studios B, Nashville in June and September, 1970 with Felton Jarvis presiding and with James Burton present along with several of the regular session guys. I say "fruitful" because these sessions produced the studio tracks which supplemented the live tracks in the documentary album "That's the Way it is", the entire original "Elvis Country" and the entire original "Love Letters" album, in that order. There does have to be a hint here from the ordering that the "Love Letters" tracks weren't considered the most vital.

The first 12 tracks on Disc 1 of this set are as they appeared in the original "Elvis Country" with the 13th track "I was born about 10,000 years ago" also being present in the segue between tracks (which I'm aware is a cause of irritation to some). Reportedly four days into the June recording session the usual fairly bland batch of songs that they were working on ran out due to the speed with which they were nailing them. Elvis stepped in with a number of songs, the majority of which were country. It's largely those songs which we get on "Elvis Country".

The start isn't auspicious. "Snowbird" is pop country of the type you might have heard years ago from someone like George Hamilton IV. But it's deceptive since this track is followed by an excellent reading of Ernest Tubb's "Tomorrow Never Comes" complete with martial beat and the big dramatic build-up - yes it's very akin to the sort of big ballad that he was delivering in the Vegas shows - corny perhaps but El is fully involved and it works. Next it's a short and charming burst of "Little Cabin on the Hill" allowing the Nashville guys to show us their chops, and then it's "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On". Was this a good choice? Can anyone cut the killer? Initially the omens aren't that good - rather a busy backing but gradually it comes together and then about two thirds in El delivers a whoop that seems to start in his boots and then climb and climb and climb and climb and then some! - after that it's mayhem! Take that Jerry Lee! I'd say this was a draw and by now we're really into the album just in case there was any doubt.

"Funny how time slips away" could also be a dig at Jerry - it was on the killer's "Country Songs for City Folks" album - and Elvis makes the song totally his own - this could be the best version ever of this one and there've been a few (and could even be a touch of the killer on keyboard at the end). The late `60's and early to mid `70's were the peak of Jerry Lee's reinvention as a country artist and you can bet your bottom dollar that Presley would have been well aware of this. The next couple of numbers "I really don't want to know" and "There goes my everything" plus the later "Make the world go away", were just the sort of thing that Jerry was recording. Bog standard country weepies given the full string treatment and great delivery from Elvis - the good ole boys in Nashville Studio B were brought up on this stuff - probably learned it in kindergarten.

And I haven't gotten into the real highlights yet. Somewhere in the middle after a total reinterpretation of "The Fool", a song that is totally synonymous with Sanford Clark (and James Burton), and a performance in which Presley makes the song totally his own, we get a radical version of "Faded Love" which seems to owe little to the Patsy Cline interpretation that many us relate to and which reaches back to Bob Wills and then adds brass and real down and dirty blues guitar from Burton with Elvis driving the whole thing along in a style that owes as much to the Ray Price Texas shuffle as western swing or heartbroken but resigned Patsy. It's one of those tracks you press the back arrow button on as soon as it finishes. But doing that you're in danger of missing another goodie in "I washed my hands in Muddy Water", a song that I relate to Charlie Rich from his Smash period but originally a mid `60's hit for Stonewall Jackson. Hey this is more rock'n'roll and El's really enjoying himself with that Jerry Lee soundalike pounding the joanna again. Is this a dig at another ex-Sun star in Charlie Rich, a man who, after quietly inventing country soul was beginning to find fame with an intriguing cross between that same soul and countrypolitan styling?

After an earlier release of "Elvis Country" containing outtakes a big puzzle emerged, why did "Where did they go, Lord" not get included? This is a track which features a Presley performance that transcends its genre to almost the same extent that "I'll hold you in my Heart (till I can hold you in my arms)" did on "From Elvis in Memphis". It's not quite that good but like the earlier song the backing is constrained though with the Sweet Inspirations coming in at just the right time just as El begins to pile on the emotion. It's a track that seems to end too early - could easily have done with a couple more minutes of smouldering from El.

It's back to earth rather with the second disc which is the "Love Letters" album in its entirety plus three outtakes. However any fall in quality (if, indeed there is such since it`s all subjective) does not start till after the title track which is a superb interpretation of the Ketty Lester classic which Elvis had covered in, I think, 1966. Elsewhere we get a storming "Got my Mojo working" which is right along the lines of the more up-tempo Vegas workouts. Generally though while Elvis delivers perfectly well on the "Love Letters" tracks plus outtakes, one doesn't feel his heart is quite in it to the same extent as on the first disc. Most of the tracks are ballads and not always terribly memorable ones at that. One of the better examples is "Rags to Riches", an outtake and the album closer in which the song allows Elvis in indulge in some of his favoured vocal theatrics.

I should mention "It ain't no big thing (but it's growing)" which like "Faded Love" has echoes of the Texas shuffle. Elvis is understated and there's a guy on mouth harp who sounds like the man who did just that same job for Waylon. Indeed it does have echoes of a Waylon performance. The harp guy is present on quite a few of the tracks on both discs but more noticeably on Disc 1. He's part of a team who give excellent backing throughout.

I'm giving this set five stars largely for the tracks present on Disc 1 of the pairing plus the overall value. However I'm not convinced that it's a substantial improvement on the 2003 single disc packaging which did include a few of the better "Love Letters" tracks though not, unfortunately, the title track. I would also agree with the US fan who commented on the missed opportunity to release the June and September sessions in their entirety which I'm sure would have been much appreciated by the really dedicated Elvis collector.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 12 Mar 2015 16:55:08 GMT
A detailed in-depth review my friend & very helpful to Amazon customers.

Brilliant reviewing.

In reply to an earlier post on 12 Mar 2015 17:04:25 GMT
You're embarassing me now!
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Location: Berkhamsted, UK

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