Elvis Presley: From Elvis in Memphis

ElvisPresley_FromElvisInMemphisStellar expansion of 1969 Elvis milestone

Elvis Presley wasn’t just the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, he was an artist who prospered in spite of an unsympathetic manager, and a star who rose to a second great peak, resurrecting himself from the ashes of a moribund career. His incendiary, game-changing hits of the ‘50s led to the start of a bright film career, but after losing his crown in a repetitive string of artistically lean popcorn movies, it took a string of three key performances to regain the throne. The first, 1967’s How Great Thou Art, was a gospel album anchored in Elvis’ musical roots; the second, an iconic NBC comeback special in 1968, proved he still had the rock ‘n’ roll spark; and the third, this 1969 return to his Memphis home ground, showed he still had something new and potent to offer. There was more, including live and country albums in 1970 and 1971, but the artistic and commercial renaissance of 1967-69, capped by this soul and gospel masterpiece (and its hit single, “In the Ghetto”), is one of the great comebacks in music history.

Even more impressive, the album’s dozen tunes are less than half the Memphis sessions’ output. RCA’s 2-CD Legacy reissue collects 36 tracks from Elvis’ stay at Chip Moman’s American Studio, adding ten tracks from the second platter of From Memphis to Vegas – From Vegas to Memphis (subsequently reissued as Back in Memphis), four single mixes of album tracks, six non-LP singles (including the trio of chart hits “Suspicious Minds,” “Don’t Cry Daddy,” and “Kentucky Rain”), and four bonus tracks. Having recorded in Nashville and Hollywood since his mid-50s departure from Sun, Elvis returned to Memphis to find soul music still heavily influenced by gospel and blues, but also powered by the bass-and-horns funk developed by the Stax, Hi, FAME, American and Muscle Shoals studios.

Buoyed by the success of his televised comeback, Elvis shook off the insipid material he’d been recording, and dug deeply into a set of blues, country, gospel and pop sounds, pushed by Moman and his crack studio band. You can hear Elvis rediscovering himself as he tests his crooning, wandering through a loose arrangement of “I’ll Hold You in My Heart (Till I Can Hold You in My Arms)” that turns Eddy Arnold’s 1940s country twanger into an emotion-soaked gospel. He’s commanding with the testimony of “Power of My Love” and swaggering and blue at the same time on “After Loving You.” He nails a slow-burning gospel-tinged cover of “Long Black Limousine,” lightens to horn-lined Memphis melancholy with “Any Day Now” and closes the album with the stunning “In the Ghetto.” The extras on disc one are finished tracks that include Bobby Darin’s “I’ll Be There,” the Beatles’ “Hey Jude,” and the gospel “Who Am I?”

The ten tracks of the follow-up album open disc two, and though the sessions were well picked-over for the original album, there are several highlights in the second set, including the slow building blues rocker “Stranger in My Own Hometown,” the dramatic farewell of “The Fair’s Moving On” and the gospel soul “Without Love (There is Nothing).” Disc two’s pay-off are the original mono single mixes, six of which don’t appear on either Memphis album, including the hits “Suspicious Minds,” “Don’t Cry Daddy” and “Kentucky Rain,” and the supremely funky “Rubberneckin’.” All of these tracks have been previously released, scattered across LPs and singles, and brought together on collections such as The Memphis Record and Suspicious Minds. But never before has Elvis’ homecoming been drawn as such a vivid portrait.

This brief leave from Col. Parker’s stifling control gave Elvis a chance to go home, both literally and figuratively, and the circumstances in which to wax one of the two or three finest albums of his career. The energy created in Memphis sustained the King through a resurgent live show, but as the bubble closed back around him, these blue-eyed soul sessions turned into the last studio high point of his extraordinary career. Legacy’s 2-CD set is delivered in a tri-fold digipack that reproduces the covers of both From Elvis in Memphis and Back in Memphis, and includes a 24-page booklet stuffed with photos and excellent liner notes by Robert Gordon and Tara McAdams. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

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