Monday, August 18, 2014

Album reviews: Elvis Presley deluxe reissues

Elvis Presley had proved to the world that he could still bring some musical magic with the ’68 Comeback Special on NBC. The following year, The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll began a residency at a then-new International Hotel in Las Vegas.

Another longstanding Sin City engagement – his third - commenced during the summer of 1970. Several of those concerts were filmed and the results combined for an acclaimed documentary feature directed by Denis Sanders, "Elvis: That's The Way It Is."

Earlier this month, RCA/Legacy Recordings put out a super deluxe reissue of the accompanying original LP in 8CD/2DVD box set and 2CD configurations – just in time for the annual Elvis week festivities in Memphis to commemorate Presley’s death on Aug. 16, 1977.  

This new release marks the first time the album and documentary have been available in a single package, with ample bonus unreleased material, remixed and remastered audio, backstage and rehearsal footage and a new 80-page book comprising event facts, songwriter and musician interviews.

(See elsewhere on this blog for the complete rundown on the box set)

Initially, That's The Way It Is combined eight studio tracks and four live concert performances recorded in Vegas.

For the 2CD configuration, Disc 1 includes the original 12-track album, the four original singles and five outtakes. Insightful, detailed liner notes were penned by musician/author Warren Zanes, formerly of The Del Fuegos. There are photos from the performance and rare memorabilia.

Standout songs include the easygoing groove of the Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil-penned BJ Thomas tune “I Just Can’t Help Believin’ (live),” the full-bodied vocals of “Twenty Days and Twenty Nights,” the acoustic guitar and piano-driven “How The Web Was Woven” and the upbeat groove rock and female call and response action in top 20 single by Eddie Rabbitt, “Patch It Up (live).”

Elsewhere, Presley and his large band pull out all the stops amid the gospelized “Just Pretend,” guitar shuffle “Stranger in the Crowd,” gorgeous lush ballad “The Next Step Is Love” and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” The outtakes include interesting studio chatter, with “Patch it Up (Take 1)” sounding quite different minus backing vocals. 

On Disc 2, the lively 17-track dinner show - all but four selections unreleased - from August 12, 1970 includes several of Presley’s Fifties hits done in quick, medley style. Always one to banter with the audience, he jokes about people eating dinner on “I Got a Woman” and states that “Hound Dog” is “a song I did when I was a baby…they call it a gutbuster.”

Tour pianist Glen Hardin recalls in the reissue liner notes that Elvis was “very spontaneous.” For “Love Me Tender,” ladies in the audience squealed as Elvis gave them brief pecks on the cheek.

“We were all shocked that he even did that,” says longtime Presley guitarist James Burton. “I’m sure [manager] Colonel Parker was too. But it was great.”

Other highlights: the ultra dramatic Mann & Weil composition (for the Righteous Brothers) “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” and Dusty Springfield-popularized “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me.”

All told, Presley is in top vocal form here. A highly recommended listening experience.  

Also in stores now through RCA/Legacy Recordings is a 2CD deluxe remastered edition of Elvis Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis to mark the 40th Anniversary release on July 7, 1974.

It features tracks left off the original album (because of vinyl format limitations) and rare material. The booklet has several photos, newspaper clippings and RCA invoices.

Having already toured elsewhere in the south in the spring of ’74, Presley finally made it back home to Memphis for his first shows there in 13 years. According to pianist Hardin in the liner notes, The King wasn’t nervous though.

“Elvis was never intimidated by anything; he knew the reaction was gonna be good.”

Instead of staying home at Graceland, located just eight miles from the Mid-South Coliseum, he held court at a Howard Johnson’s motel down the street from the concert venue to feel like he was still on tour.

The two complete shows here have basically identical setlists. But the first one performed at the Richmond Coliseum on Disc 2 was only recorded as a test run for the main Memphis gig and presented in mono with reverb as the artist preferred.

Nearly half the songs on Disc 1 were not included on the original LP. Elvis sounds totally relaxed and still injects humor at every turn. He gets backing singer JD Sumner to bring his baritone down as low as it can go on “I Got A Woman/Amen” (the same trick later in the set, amid the Sumner & The Stamps sung gospel of “Why Me Lord,” is really annoying).

Presley turns in a strong take on James Taylor’s “Steamroller Blues” and “Suspicious Minds,” the pleasant country of Larry Gatlin’s “Help Me,” loose 'n' twangy “Let Me Be There” and spirited “My Baby Left Me.” Disc 2 sounds far better in mono and reverb. Among the standouts are the above mentioned, plus a vigorously belted “Trying To Get To You” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You.”

The five demo quality tunes (three previously unreleased) from an August 1974 rehearsal for a Vegas engagement are loosely structured, minus some of the vocals and instrumentation that would appear on official studio or live versions. Presley can be heard working out some vocalizations on “Good Time Charlie's Got The Blues” and a story intro about “Softly As I Leave You.” Ewan McColl’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and “The Twelfth Of Never” round things out.

There’s plenty to satisfy casual and diehard fans alike on Elvis Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis. 

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