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You're riding in a long black limousine,
This review is from: From Elvis In Memphis (Legacy Edition) (Audio CD)Considered by many to be his best album and they may well have a point. Coming off the successful "1968 Comeback Special" and itching to lay down some tracks of somewhat greater significance than the vacuous soundtrack material that he'd been lumbered with for much of the decade, Presley would appear to have been given his head for much of the time on these sessions. He was assigned a sympathetic producer in Chips Moman who was well versed in soul, blues and country and most points in between. Moman's own CV even included a solid dose of old-fashioned rock'n'roll having done a stint in the road bands of both Johnny Burnette and Gene Vincent.
The songs on "From Elvis in Memphis" reflect just that musical pedigree. Plenty of soul in Jerry Butler's "Only the Strong Survive", Chuck Jackson's "Any Day Now" plus the storming opener, "You're wearing that Loved-on look" written by Dallas Frazier, a man more known for country material but also not averse to penning something in a southern soul vein like this one. Frazier also contributes "True Love travels on a gravel road" which is okay-ish but less distinctive. There's also C&W here in Johnny Tillotson's pop/country "It keeps right on a'hurtin`" plus the more up to date "Gentle on my Mind". Not forgetting the up tempo near rock'n'roll of Hank Snow's "I'm Movin' On". Opening with some guitar picking and a train whistle before the gospel choir start upping the heat - I wonder if someone had listened to the Ray Charles cut where the Raelettes performed a similar function - no matter this one rolls along very nicely.
That leaves us with blues and "Power of Love" covers that genre rather nicely. Opening with an aggressive guitar riff from someone who might just have heard of (or even played alongside) Steve Cropper, Elvis is in more forceful mode than at any time since recording songs like "Hound Dog" and "Jailhouse Rock".
There are four tracks I haven't mentioned. These are the tracks that really make this album a monster. "In the Ghetto" is the by far the most well known of these and it's rightly been lauded by many. This is Elvis about as far out of his comfort zone as he gets. The performance is both intimate and dramatic though for me there's a level of artifice present which sometimes leaves me slightly uncomfortable. There's no doubt that as Presley had developed, he'd changed from an artist who performed on instinct - and in the early days those instincts were invariably right - to one who was very self-aware. The development of this self-awareness was gradual during the pre-army RCA days but his first post-army album showed a changed performer. The old devil may care approach was present in only a few of the songs like the heavy blues, "Reconsider Baby".
But the old Presley is back with us totally on "After Loving You" which has the feel of a tossed off live take. It's the sort of performance that no one but Presley ever gave but only gave, increasingly infrequently. There are elements of blues, gospel and country all intertwined with an Elvis who's completely immersed in the song. It's at the opposite end of his performing spectrum to "the Ghetto" but both are great tracks for different reasons. The backing is restrained putting all the focus on Elvis.
"Old Black Limousine" does the really difficult thing and combines both approaches. It's rather stagey like "The Ghetto" but after the slow intro it moves more into more of a white soul belter. Often described as a country song, it's not, but its lyrics certainly come from the western tradition. Elvis smoulders his way though it and really puts his all into the closing stages.
And that leaves me with "I'll hold you in my arms till I can hold you in my heart". This one is a country song but delivered unlike any other country song you`ve heard. Take all the words I said about "After Loving You" and double them at least. That's the intensity you get here. Once again simple support, piano, organ and guitar but above it all Elvis is in his own world, almost speaking in tongues at times. Each time you expect it to end he soars into another middle eight. At four minutes and thirty seconds it's too short. Good as other tracks are on the album they pale beside this one.
And unfortunately pale is the term to describe much of Disc 2 which is the studio portion of the "From Memphis to Vegas / From Vegas to Memphis" album. These are the tracks which were left on the cutting room floor after the "From Elvis in Memphis" album was assembled. They're all very competently put together but few of the songs managed to spark Elvis into the larger than life performances which we got with the initial album. One of the better tracks is "Stranger in my Hometown" which was originally written and performed by the slightly obscure blues artist, Percy Mayfield. Both Elvis and the band give the song a forceful performance and the lyrics seem rather apt, what with Elvis returning to Memphis to record. Elsewhere he gives us a very playful rendition of Ned Miller's country crossover hit "From a Jack to a King". I can only describe this one as delightful - Elvis is having such fun with the song. Most of the rest of the tracks are ballads of which, "Without Love" is the standout. Predictably dramatic but great performance nevertheless.
The extras we get are mainly singles and B sides which were also recorded during the same Memphis sessions. Head and shoulders above the rest of them is "Suspicious Minds" about which I'll say no more because you'll probably already have heard it several million times already (though I do have rather dim memories of a certain karoake session!).
In terms of rating, "From Elvis in Memphis" on its own must be worth ten stars. The second disc would get a lot less from me but unfortunately the songs on that second album seemed to set the mould for Elvis in the '70's apart from the concert material.