Elvis Presley – Elvis Country – Legacy Edition (RCA/Legacy) album review
What if Elvis jammed with the Allman Brothers? That’s what the stellar version of “Whole Lot-ta Shakin’ Goin’ On” sounds like, complete with slide guitar – one of the many surprises in the Legacy Edition of the somewhat confusingly titled Elvis Country 2-CD set that’s just been released. I say confusing because it’s not really a country record – not in the traditional sense anyway. In fact, several tracks rock harder and tougher than anything since the singer’s very first recordings.
Presley was coming off the success of From Elvis in Memphis, which put him back on the map; garnering critical praise and producing his final number one hit single, “Suspicious Minds.” But, an argument with the Memphis producers assured that lightning wouldn’t strike twice. Instead, he chose to return to Nashville, assembling a completely new set of musicians – many who were veterans of the Muscle Shoals backing band, which would give these tracks a meaty, full sound. This is significant, because the Muscle Shoals sound emphasized groove over twang. Most importantly was the addition of legendary guitarist James Burton, who had laid down some of the most exciting guitar solos of the early rock era for Ricky Nelson.
Although the album was mostly comprised of country songs, they weren’t always done in a typical, Nashville arrangement. Western swing pioneer Bob Willis’ “Faded Love” is given the bluesy treatment, featuring ferocious guitar, while Stonewall Jackson’s “I Washed My Hands in Muddy Water” is a horn-infused rave up. The album opens with the unfortunate “Snowbird” – already a hit for Anne Murray a few months earlier. Elvis gives it his best, but it’s just not a good fit and doesn’t give any indication of the great tracks still to come on the album. The opening cut notwithstanding, the record features excellent sequencing, alternating between gentle numbers like Ernest Tubb’s “Tomorrow Never Comes,” and the banjo and fiddle rockin’ of “Little Cabin on the Hill,” originally penned by Bill Monroe.
One of the most unique aspects of the album is that a snippet of the song “I’m 10,000 Years Old” is inserted between each track, giving it a kind of conceptual feel, but also adding a looseness that hadn’t been heard on a Presley album in a long, long time. Of course, the iconic image of a young Elvis (age two) wearing an oversized cowboy hat also cheapens the material inside; it’s a cute picture, but did they have to go there?
The Legacy Edition features the original 12 tracks from Elvis Country augmented by some great bonus cuts – the full-length version of the aforementioned “I’m 10,000 Years Old,” a studio jam of “A Hundred Years From Now” which really cooks, and a heartfelt reading of “Where Did They Go, Lord.”
The two-disc set also contains the followup to Elvis Country, Love Letters From Elvis, a record made up almost entirely of ballads. And, while there are some decent cuts here, some of the material just isn’t that good (especially bad is “This is Our Dance,” which smacks too much of Tom Jones). Of the slower numbers, “If I Were You,” featuring vibrato guitar, gives Presley a chance for a soulful delivery. “Cindy, Cindy,” done by Waylon Jennings the previous year, has a rockabilly feel to it. Right in the middle of all these slow numbers is the jam-in-the-studio reading of Muddy Waters’ “Got My Mojo Working,” which features more great James Burton guitar picking. A couple more spirited tracks like this would’ve helped elevate this record a few notches.
2012 marks the 35th anniversary of Presley’s passing, and RCA/Legacy has an entire year’s worth of commemorative releases planned. Elvis Country is an excellent addition to their Legacy Edition Series, and proves that he was still making great music well into the Seventies. –Tony Peters