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He thinks we still care,
This review is from: Moody Blue (Audio CD)
Presley's last album and while not a classic it's nothing like as bad as we feared it might be given the man's physical condition at the time. Quite remarkably some of the tracks on it are near classic performances though the level isn't sustained throughout.
The original album contained 6 tracks recorded at Graceland in February and October 1976 plus 4 tracks recorded on tour - the latter were added because Elvis wasn't recording enough studio material. When "Moody Blue" was released on CD in 2000, the tracks from the preceding album, "From Elvis Presley Boulevard" were added, these also coming from the February `76 Graceland sessions, and one of the on tour tracks was dropped.
Enough of boring detail, what was the music actually like? Well there are two tracks from the original "Moody Blue" studio set which stand up well against the majority of Elvis' country records. "She thinks I still care" is a great country weepie from the early days of George Jones. It's received the compliment of several covers over the years but none surely as good as this one. Elvis takes the song, tears it all apart and reconstructs it his way aided by excellent overdubbing from Felton Jarvis. I don't think he ever included it in his stage set but if he did I'd wager there wouldn't have been any dry eyes in the house. Simply a stunner.
The other country goodie is "He'll have to go", a number irrevocably associated with Jim Reeves and indeed, one of his very best songs. It also has received a few good covers over time including a beautiful tex-mex one from Ry Cooder. Presley's version again differs considerably from the original with a deep, deep guitar strongly featuring. "Tell the man to turn the jukebox way down low - sung very low - and you can tell your friend there with you, he'll have to go". Sterling stuff.
As if that wasn't enough we get one more goodie from the man, another slowie but this time with R&B overtones. The song is "Pledging my love" from the great Johnny Ace and it's the one he recorded just before his death, creating a big posthumous hit in the US. While it's great to hear Elvis singing the song it doesn't quite have the knock-you-out appeal of the previous pair. It's also slightly marred by what sounds like massed kazoos on the break (which occurs twice!).
The rest of the album is OK but not fantastic. The live "Unchained Melody" is much as one might expect, plenty of bombast but delivered well, "Little Darlin'" is a bit of fun but doesn't wear repeated hearings, the title track has the Tom Jones cum Elvis Vegas sound. But this set is really about those two country songs.
"Elvis Presley Boulevard" gives us another country classic plus a couple of other very good tracks. The country number is "Blue Eyes Crying in the rain", a great song written by Fred Rose and originally performed by Roy Acuff. Hank also did it, his way of course. Willie Nelson is justifiably responsible for the best known version of the song. It was the highlight of his "Red Headed Stranger" album. Though I should add that there's a live version I've seen/heard which is even better than his studio recording - his vocal phrasing is even jazzier and the guitar playing is spectacular. There was also a nice version from Gene Vincent on his "Crazy Times" album - Gene was one of the few with the raw vocal capabilities to match Elvis - he does a nice soaring bit into the middle eight.
Anyway, enough of all that, Elvis' version features himself on gospelly piano with a slightly messy backing dubbed on. But the latter doesn't matter, it's Elvis' vocal that counts and that scores on all counts. The performance is sombre but joyful at the same time. Apparently this was a song which he used to perform privately for his family.
A couple of other tracks on "... Boulevard" are well worth mentioning. "Hurt" is the song that Timi Yuro had a hit with in 1961 and it`s her most well known number. Elvis had been a fan of Timi for many years, and the song which is basically an early slab of blue eyed soul, fits well with his style even down to a brief chunk of monologue. It's a good performance but, for me, doesn`t erase the memory of the penetrating vocal on Yuro's original.
"Danny Boy" is the other track which warrants a listen. I can't say that it's one of my all-time favourite songs but if anyone's going to sing it it might as well be Elvis. The back up boys - presmumably overdubbed - avoid any possibility of Vegas overkill and our man hits those high notes magnificently. Has to be one of the better versions of the song.
Elsewhere it's not bad but overall doesn't quite make five stars.
And do we or did we still care? Well he kept on going till the end pretty well - there's music here that's as good as stuff he recorded well over a decade earlier. Of course we cared and we still do.