Thursday, 5 January 2012

"Elvis Country - Legacy Edition" by ELVIS PRESLEY. A Review Of The January 2012 2CD Reissue.

"…How's Your New Love?

Big glasses, big hair, big cape, big ego, big productions - 1970 and 1971 are years that divide Presley fans. Some see it as a renewal period that followed on from the '68 comeback special - while others see these dates as the beginning of the end - a slide into the horrible decline of the Vegas years. This new 'Legacy' issue of two albums from that time frame is of course both good and bad. But here are the issue details first...

Released Monday 2 January 2012 in the UK (3 Jan 2012 in the USA) - "Elvis Country" is on RCA/Legacy 88691 90439 2 and contains 2 whole albums with 6 bonus sides. Its 29 STEREO tracks break down as follows:

Disc 1 (46:17 minutes):
Tracks 1 to 12 are the US LP "I'm 10,000 Years Old - Elvis Country" - released 2 January 1971 on RCA Victor LSP-4460
Track 13 is "I Was Born About Ten Thousand Years Ago" which first appeared on the "Elvis Now" LP in February 1972 (see paragraphs below)
Track 14 is "A Hundred Years From Now (Studio Jam)" is an outtake which first appeared on the 5LP/5CD Box Set "Walk A Mile In My Shoes: The Essential 70's Masters" in October 1995
Track 15 is "Where Did They Go, Lord" which first appeared on the LP "He Walks Beside Me" in February 1976

Disc 2 (41:49 minutes):
Tracks 1 to 11 are the US LP "Love Letters From Elvis" - released June 1971 on RCA Victor LSP-4530
Track 12 is "The Sound Of Your Cry" - a US 7" single released 21 September 1971
Track 13 is "Sylvia" which first appeared on the "Elvis Now" LP in February 1972
Track 14 is "Rags To Riches" - a US 7" single released 23 February 1971

Both albums came out of sessions recorded at RCA's Studio B in Nashville during June and September 1970. But the really big news in 2012 is a new VIC ANESINI remaster with truly BEAUTIFUL sound quality. Anesini is not new to Elvis reissues; he mastered the 2CD 'Legacy Editions' of "Elvis Presley", "Elvis Is Back", "From Elvis In Memphis" as well as the 4CD set "The Complete '68 Comeback Special" - with unanimous praise heaped on all four.

The packaging is now standard for these Legacy sets. A 3-way card digipak features the famous Elvis aged 2 photo artwork on the front with the "Love Letters From Elvis" LP artwork on the inside flap. The CDs are yellow to reflect the original LP colours while the 24-page booklet has new colour photos, pictures of the US 7" singles for "Life", I'm Leavin'" and "Where Did They Go, Lord" and liner notes by STUART COLMAN. There are full discography details of the sessions and vinyl releases on the last few pages. It's well laid out and lovely to look at.

First up is the layout of the main album "Elvis Country" - as each track ends (and even as some begin) 'segments' of a song called "I Was Born About Ten Thousand Years Ago" segue in and out - whether you like it or not. This happens on 'every' tune and while it probably seemed cool at the time, it's irritating and gimmicky now (the full version of the song is Track 13, one of the bonus cuts). Colman's liner notes rather craftily don't mention the 'segments' at all - or that they ruin good songs both at the beginning and end of play. In fact you can't cue up any song on this album because of it. But for me the worst part of this 'Legacy' issue is that RCA didn't go the full hog and finally offer fans just the 'music' - the songs stripped away of this intrusive crap and allowed to be heard on their own. Now that would have been something truly special - but alas - not to be...

To the music - despite its 'Country' title, the main album is in fact top heavy with ballads. Freed of Colonel Parker's cruddy and ill-advised choices, Elvis picked tunes that both suited and highlighted his deepened voice - Hank Cochran's string-filled "Make The World Go Away" is a typically good choice and there's a truly lovely version of Willie Nelson's "Funny How Time Slips Away" filled with Dobro licks and churchy organ - really nice (lyrics above). The Southern Funk vibe of "The Fool" is a highlight too with James Burton on choppy guitar and Charlie McCoy on Organ and Harmonica. It rocks out a bit on Bob Willis' "Faded Love", but I find the pseudo version of Jerry Lee's "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" less convincing.

The second LP "Love Letters From Elvis" continues on the slow songs tip opening with a deep-throated version of Ketty Lester's "Love Letters". "Life" was released as a single on 27 April 1971 in advance of the album with "Only Believe" as its B-side (RCA 47-9985). But while the sound quality is GORGEOUS - material like "Heart Of Rome" and "This Is Our Dance" feel like second-rate lounge music - and provide a very real reason as to why Presley was ridiculed as well as revered at this time. The syrupy nature of the material simply lets the side down - and it very much feels like RCA milking it again - put out anything by the man - who cares...

To sum up - with the best will in the world, you could not describe these LPs as 'classic' Elvis. "Elvis Country" is the best of the two offerings undoubtedly and is an album that deserves rediscovery - yet it's presentation here is lazy and the follow up LP only highlights how cheesy both he and his music had become. On the upside - for those prepared to give this much-maligned period a chance - there are rewards, especially in the ballads. It also boasts a fabulous new remaster, nice packaging and at mid-price isn't going to break your bank balance.

Finally - I wish I could say that I enjoyed this Legacy issue as much as I have all the others I've bought and reviewed, but I can't. I want to remember the King in a better light than this. I know it's a matter of personal taste, but I just wish RCA had given us the "Elvis Country" songs 'unadorned' so we could actually listen to them for the first time and properly hear the great man's 'legacy'.

For me this release is only good then - when it could have been great - even groundbreaking...

PS: Elvis Presley titles in this 'Legacy' Series so far are:
1. "Elvis Presley" (his "Elvis Presley" debut and follow up album "Elvis" both from 1956 with extra single sides)
2. "Elvis Is Back" (the "Elvis Is Back" LP from 1960 with the "Something For Everybody" follow-up album from 1961 and extra single sides)
3. "Elvis Country" - as above
4. "From Elvis In Memphis" (the "From Elvis In Memphis" 1969 LP with the "Back In Memphis" follow-up album from 1970 with extra single singles and other recordings from the 1969 sessions)
5. "On Stage" - (the 1970 live album with its "Elvis In Person" follow up and 8 extra sides)
6. " The Complete '68 Comeback Special" - 4CD Mini Box Set

PPS: for other Vic Anesini Remasters - see my reviews for "Be What You Want..." the 4CD Box Set by HALL & OATES, the Legacy Edition of "Couldn't Stand The Weather" by STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN and the Legacy Edition of "Tomorrow The Green Grass" by THE JAYHAWKS. He has also done the much-praised Columbia issues of Simon And Garfunkel's back catalogue and the stunning Roy Orbison album "Lonely And Blue"

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