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A snapshot of an often under-estimated music maker,
By A Customer
This review is from: A Hundred Years From Now - Essential Elvis 4 (Audio CD)Anyone who has read of how Presley was taken advantage of by his notorious manager "Colonel" Tom Parker - and who doesn't know better - could be forgiven for assuming that he was some cretinous goon who was equally in thrall to the whims of producers, going into a studio and laying down vocal tracks in production line fashion.
Here's the evidence to blow that preconception away. As a music-maker, Presley was as worthy of respect as anyone who ever set foot in a studio.
To him, making a recording of lasting appeal wasn't achieved by multi-tracking to create an idealised "perfection" - it was done by working with his hand-picked band to reach that perfect take - a performance that had the right spark. He hated to overdub, instead singing live with the musicians, often moving about with a hand-held mic to interact with them.
In 1966 Presley's music was rescued from its plunge into movie-soundtrack dross when he hooked up with producer Felton Jarvis, an often unsung hero who intuitively knew how to get the best out of him. After his late 60s comeback, he and his band entered RCA's Nashville Studios with Jarvis and recorded 35 songs in the space of four days, often working through the night in typical Presley fashion.
This collection features songs from that session, plus a few from 1971. These tracks are mainly alternate takes, which don't have the ovedubbed strings and backing vocals that were added to some of the mastered tracks. Instead, what we hear is exactly what Presley and the band sounded like in the studio. As a bonus, on this compilation there are several snippets of "studio talk" where you can hear how relaxed and in-control he sounds as the band jam or gather themselves together for a take.
Presley's 70s band - featuring James Burton on lead guitar - was much admired: Gram Parsons used them on his "GP" and "Grievous Angel" LPs. Here they show how they could turn their hands to anything from country, bluegrass, R&B, rock & roll, gospel and (of course, this is Presley after all) big ballads.
There have been some good reissues of 70s Presley in recent years, notably the excellent box set "The Essential 70s Masters" (if you want the definitive 70s Elvis, buy it), but as a single CD document of him working in the studio, this is the best we've had so far. Some of the vocal performances are not quite as earth-shattering as those on the masters, but still very listenable.
If you are a Presley completist, you'll want this disc, as every track differs in some way from previously released masters. Hear the band work up "Got My Mojo Workin'" as Elvis stamps his presence on the track without the overdubbed strings and female voices. "Whole Lotta Shakin'" goes on twice as long, with Elvis going wild before intoning "Fade it out man!" to engineer Al Pachucki. Take 5 of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" is well worth having and also included is the long lost alternate master of "Until It's Time For You To Go".
It all ends with a half-serious, half-self parodying informal performance of "The Lord's Prayer", with Presley reaching for the high notes to the amusement of his companions. Fascinating stuff, and the closest we'll now get to being in the studio with him. What a shame there is now a whole generation who, at the mention of his name, are more likely to refer to his fondness for junk food than his awesome talent.