Thursday, January 12, 2012

Expanded Elvis Country out now

This past Sunday, Elvis fans celebrated the late King of Rock 'n' Roll's birthday. RCA/Legacy just released a newly expanded collection of Elvis Country

Originally released in 1971, the album found the singer re-engaging with the Nashville country music community. The deluxe two-CD package is the first Elvis release in a year which marks the 35th anniversary of the artist’s passing and a year-long celebration of his life and legacy.

Included in the new package on CD 1 is the original 12-song album. It peaked at #12 and was certified RIAA gold. Three bonus tracks are drawn from the original recording sessions in 1970. On CD 2 is the original 11-song Love Letters From Elvis, also with three bonus tracks from the original sessions.

Displaying the Tupelo, Miss. native in his prime, Elvis Country is rife with robust vocals. Highlights include his takes on “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” Anne Murray-popularized "Snowbird," and Willie Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away.” The recurring “I Was Born About Ten Thousand Years Ago” is a minor annoyance.

In the liner notes, writer Stuart Colman calls the original Elvis Country "a pivotal release, in that it served to maintain the momentum generated by the ’68 Comeback Special,’ the breakthrough in Las Vegas and Elvis Presley's long overdue return to touring." 

Upon the original release, future Presley historian and biographer Peter Guralnick wrote in Rolling Stone: "[He] has come out with a record which gives us some of the very finest and most affecting music since he first recorded for Sun almost 17 years ago."

The idea of inserting excerpts of “I Was Born About Ten Thousand Years Ago” (a track that did not appear on the original album but does appear on this edition as a bonus track) in between the album tracks gave the LP a conceptual feel that had never been encountered before. And the songs, from the high-energy rock of “I Washed My Hands In Muddy Water” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” to the big ballads that were becoming an Elvis trade­mark (Eddy Arnold’s “I Really Don’t Want To Know” and “Funny How Time Slips Away” among them) were some of Elvis’ greatest performances ever.

The songs chosen for Love Letters From Elvis included an inspired coupling of Muddy Waters’ rollicking “Got My Mojo Working” with “Keep Your Hands Off Of It” (“a peculiar combination of hypertension and soul,” as popularly characterized by Guralnick). It was offset by the ballads chosen as singles, “Rags To Riches” (the Tony Bennett hit of 1953), the inspirational “Only Believe,” and “Life.”

Standouts on Love Letters include the Italian flair in "Heart of Rome," ultra-dramatic “Rags To Riches” and aforementioned "Mojo." Fans will enjoy the 21-page booklet's rare photos, memorabilia and Colman's authoritative essays.

Released barely five months apart, Elvis Country and Love Letters From Elvis are often regarded together in the Elvis canon. In mid-1971, Elvis returned for more recording, resulting in 40-plus masters. Much of them were heard later that year on Elvis Sings the Wonderful World Of Christmas, and the following year on his gospel LP, He Touched Me. 

This Legacy Edition tracks a seismic change in his recording career. It came at a moment which turned out to be a true turning point for him. “Elvis seemed inspired, singing with a passion and soulfulness that recalled Memphis,” wrote Jørgensen in his essential research guide, Elvis Presley: A Life In Music (St. Martin’s Press, 1998).

“The band fell in with equal feeling, their confidence and expressiveness growing along with his. Both singer and band were performing out of genre, improvising their own rhythms and phrasing on the spot, challenging each other.” To paraphrase Jørgensen, “they had something to be proud of.”
CD 1: ELVIS COUNTRY – ORIGINAL ALBUM (originally issued January 1971, as RCA 4460)  Selections: 1. Snowbird • 2. Tomorrow Never Comes • 3. Little Cabin On The Hill • 4. Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On • 5. Funny How Time Slips Away • 6. I Really Don’t Want To Know • 7. There Goes My Everything • 8. It’s Your Baby, You Rock It • 9. The Fool • 10. Faded Love • 11. I Washed My Hands In Muddy Water • 12. Make The World Go Away • Bonus tracks: 13. I Was Born About Ten Thousand Years Ago • 14. A Hundred Years From Now (studio jam) • 15. Where Did They Go, Lord (single, Hot 100 #33).
CD 2: LOVE LETTERS FROM ELVIS – ORIGINAL ALBUM (originally issued June 1971, as RCA 4530)  Selections: 1. Love Letters • 2. When I’m Over You • 3. If I Were You • 4. Got My Mojo Working/Keep Your Hands Off Of It • 5. Heart Of Rome • 6. Only Believe • 7. This Is Our Dance • 8. Cindy, Cindy • 9. I’ll Never Know • 10. It Ain’t No Big Thing (But It’s Growing) • 11. Life • Bonus tracks: 12. The Sound Of Your Cry • 13. Sylvia • 14. Rags To Riches (single, Hot 100 #33).

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