Elvis Country / Love Letters
Before looking at the actual 'Elvis Country' and 'Love Letters' albums and songs I would like to address this particular release, the Legacy Edition, as the albums are currently available in more than one format. And a brief look at the other titles released in the series so far. This is because I had my doubts about this release.
Elvis Country in my opinion is by far Elvis' best album, [A view shared by all at Elvis Australia] and the songs are easily in contention as among his best recordings. While 'Love Letters' contains some nice recordings it is still the leftovers of a great recording session and features an extremely uninspired title and cover. Although many will disagree with me, This Is our Dance for example my least favorite, was the subject of Melbourne radio station 3AW's program, Nightline with Bruce and Phil, contacting us two or three years ago wanting to know where the song could be obtained after high demand following their playing it on air. Truthfully I wondered was it sacrilege binding an album like 'Love Letters' [or anything really] to the Classic 'Elvis Country'. After all, Peter Guralnick did write in Rolling Stone magazine in 1971, '[Elvis] 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'.
However, admittedly to a lesser degree, this coupling succeeds in the same way that the Elvis Is Back! Legacy set did. And that is as I explain below in the flow from disc one to disc two.
Elvis Is Back! Legacy
With the Elvis Is Back! 2 CD Legacy release I said, 'But play disc two ['Something For Everybody'] of this set immediately following the end of 'Elvis Is Back!' on disc one and it is as if the two albums were meant to be a double album release to begin with. That is the best compliment I think one can give to the producers of the set in coupling the two albums for this Legacy Edition. I have never been comfortable with the track format on 'Something For Everybody' (Personal opinion I am sure) with the ballads on side one and the 'rockers' on the other ... However in this case, There's Always Me and the rest of what was originally side A of the album compliment and blend with what has just been playing with the 'Elvis Is Back!' selections giving a good break to what has been a powerhouse list of performances and then we start again with I'm Coming Home, and boy is it great to have the bonus tracks of I Feel So Bad, (Marie's The Name Of) His Latest Flame, Little Sister, Good Luck Charm and Anything That's Part Of You follow the original B side tracks'. With this Legacy release of 'Elvis Country' / 'Love Letters' I find the same refreshing change when my car CD changer goes from disc 1 to disc 2, as indicated above, in no way as profound and effective as on the 'Elvis Is Back!' release but it is there non the less and that is the biggest surprise of this release. Also with the newly remastered sound by Vic Anesini the remake of the song Love Letters sounds so much better. I have never liked it, despised it in fact, particularly in comparison to the sublime 1966 original, but now it is clearer and Elvis' deeper voice better presented.
Does this release beat the FTD Classic album?
No. There would never be any chance of that!
But if you are not into alternate takes this is a great buy. [Although I suggest to you right now that you should buy the FTD Classic Album release of Elvis Country - with some excellent bonus tracks actually adding to the album rather than just being add-ons that should not be there - it will knock your socks off!!] But both have there roles to 'play' and I certainly like having both. In this case as indicated the Legacy release works well in the car. And I highly recommend and state clearly that every Elvis fan should own a copy of Elvis Country FTD 2 CD Special Edition in the FTD Classic Album series. While you sure can argue that From Elvis In Memphis or Elvis Is Back! are better albums, according to individual tastes, I can't see any reason - excuse - for not owing this release in its FTD form, it is something very special as you can read in David Troedson's review.
How about the other releases in the Legacy Series?
From Elvis In Memphis
From Elvis In Memphis is brilliant of coarse, and many would be saying this is Elvis' best album, not 'Elvis Country'. The big selling point of this 36 track double CD set is the inclusion of Elvis' single releases from these sessions in mono, on CD for the first time. And after all these were the actual hit records - that most have not actually heard, either in a very long time, or not at all! : The mono mix gives a real punch to the recordings.
With great packaging and sound -- The recordings have been remastered from the original album masters for optimum sound quality to produce the very best sound quality to-date -- and great songs, From Elvis in Memphis: Legacy Edition is a powerful reminder of why Elvis Presley was the King.
Elvis On Stage
Looking at this today, I must say this one is the big disappointment, an opportunity missed to give us and the general buying public something new from 1970 [Example such as on the bootleg, On Stage : The Ultimate Edition]. And the coupling with 'Elvis In Person' is a terrible mismatch really, particularly when you can buy the FTD Classic Album of Elvis In Person with very rare and appropriate bonus tracks on disc 1 and a previously unreleased August 22, 1969 DS concert on disc 2. [If you can find a copy of On Stage : The Ultimate Edition, don't hesitate, grab it.] Now if you take a look at my review of Elvis On Stage you will see I have done a 360 degree turn on this. Why? Well if you are able to listen to On Stage : The Ultimate Edition and you will know why. Truthfully I did not know these other recordings existed until released in 2011.
Elvis Presley Legacy Edition Releases to January 2012.
Elvis Presley / Elvis
Both albums are of course a natural to go back to back in a Legacy release. However this release has been overshadowed with the release of the excellent Young man With The Big Beat box set.
But get this, I prefer this 2 CD legacy release not the big deluxe box set.
Vinyl lovers may identify with my feelings on this, I prefer to hold, look at, and play the album albeit in CD form.
Both are classic albums [No pun intended] and I love to respect the art of compilation and presentation as originally released where possible, and particularly on albums such as this; Elvis Country, and, Elvis Is Back!, From Elvis In Memphis, How Great Thou Art, His Hand In Mine, Elvis Presley, Elvis and even the FTD 'created' albums, Elvis Sings Guitar Man, Standing Room Only and Elvis Sings Memphis Tennessee.
[Most of the above links are to the FTD Classic albums that I ultimately prefer.]
Review : Elvis Country Love Letters Legacy Edition
The title of Elvis Presley's 1969 double album said it all: 'From Memphis to Vegas', or if you turned the jacket over, 'From Vegas to Memphis'. Both sides of the singer were on display both on the album and in its title: the superstar showman who had triumphed at Las Vegas' International Hotel and the onetime Sun Records prodigy who'd periodically returned to his R&B roots. Though no studio album was released in 1970, the singer returned in January 1971 with Elvis Country: I'm 10,000 Years Old, and again the artist was addressing his roots, though with some decidedly contemporary flourishes. Nicely coinciding with the album's 41st anniversary, RCA and Legacy Recordings have paired Elvis Country with its follow-up, Love Letters from Elvis. 'Love Letters' was drawn from the same four days of Nashville sessions as 'Elvis Country', making for a particularly effective entry in the current series of Legacy Editions for the Presley catalogue. (Still more tracks from this studio marathon were utilized for the soundtrack of Elvis: That's The Way It Is, which itself could be a contender for another upgrade down the road.) The concept behind the Legacy Editions is a simple one: pair two related albums in one package, adding related singles, out takes and ephemera, but largely avoiding the alternate takes that are the bread and butter of Follow That Dream, the Internet/mail-order Elvis-only collectors' label. The Legacy Editions have been remarkably effective in streamlining the often-confusing state of Elvis Presley's basic compact disc catalogue, and 'Elvis Country': Legacy Edition is no exception.
Considering the furor which greeted Presley's rise to national prominence, it's remarkable from a contemporary vantage point that many of the singer's earliest, most muscular recordings could today be considered as much country as rock and roll. The future King always paid respect to his Southern heritage in song, and so 'Elvis Country' would be marked with deep soul and gospel intensity, even if filtered through the outsized presence commanded the stage at the International nightly in glittery jumpsuits. Befitting the famous 'Nashville sound' pioneered at RCA, Presley's band (James Burton, Chip Young and Charlie Hodge on guitar, Norbert Putnam on bass, Jerry Carrigan on drums, David Briggs on piano, Charlie McCoy on organ and harmonica) was supplemented with overdubbed musicians, with Burton, Carrigan, McCoy and Briggs all returning to participate in the overdubs themselves. (Burton, Young and McCoy were all familiar to Elvis, and Putnam, Briggs and Carrigan arrived via Muscle Shoals!) When Elvis joined these musicians for four days of recording in June 1970, he hadn't set foot in a recording studio since March 1969 when he recorded tracks for Change of Habit, the film in which he starred opposite a post-Dick Van Dyke Show Mary Tyler Moore as a nun. Not surprisingly, though, Elvis returned to Nashville like a fish getting back to water. The resulting album would be derived from the June sessions and one night in September which yielded four tracks: 'Snowbird' and 'Whole Lot-ta [sic] Shakin' Goin' On', and 'Where Did They Go Lord' and 'Rags to Riches', two single sides also included on the Legacy Edition.
The modern touches applied by nominal producer Felton Jarvis are apparent from the start of Elvis Country and suit the naturally deeper voice Presley had acquired by this point. An electric sitar figures prominently on the opening cover of Anne Murray's 'Snowbird', written by Gene McLellan. It's the same instrument familiar from B.J. Thomas' 'Hooked on a Feeling' or many of Thom Bell's best Philadelphia soul productions. 'Snowbird' segues rather jarringly into the first of many snippets of the old traditional tune 'I Was Born 10,000 Years Ago'. This song, with its raucous and rollicking beat, is woven between the album's tracks to create one of the most pronounced 'conceptual' touches on any Presley album. Was the singer commenting on how integral these songs are to the musical firmament? The complete '10,000 Years Ago' recording was originally released on 1972's Elvis Now and is included here as a bonus track. (The 'clean' fades of the album tracks, minus the '10,000 Years Ago' segments, can be heard on various compilations and 'complete' sets.)
The bolero rhythm of 'Tomorrow Never Comes' isn't typical country-and-western, though it was adopted from Glen Campbell's recording of the Ernest Tubb composition. Elvis brings the song home with a booming gospel choir, big notes and even bigger passion a bit redolent of his 1968 rouser 'If I Can Dream', which also managed to be both singularly heartfelt and bombastic. Freewheeling, up-tempo tracks make the strongest impression, such as a tough, reworked 'Whole Lot-ta Shakin' Goin' On', which replaces Jerry Lee Lewis' famous piano licks with furious guitar interplay and a vocal that finds Elvis shedding a few years in the process! He's carried away as he admonishes drummer Jerry Carrigan to 'take it out, Jerry! Take it out!' as the track draws to a close. Joe Babcock's 'I Washed My hands in Muddy Water' becomes another brisk, lean rocker in Elvis' hands. On the bluesy take of Lee Hazlewood's 'The Fool' (credited to Hazlewood's then-wife, Naomi Ford), you might have to turn your stereo up to hear Elvis' conspiratorially whispered vocal! Elvis was equally comfortable with the ballads, however. Hank Cochran's 'Make the World Go Away' is a big AM-ready production drenched in strings, though Elvis' strong vocal is still out front. It's a mystery as to why this track wasn't selected as a single. (Dallas Frazier's 'There Goes My Everything' and the Barnes/Robertson 'I Really Don't Want to Know' were the choices instead.) A sweet, tender and affecting one-take reading of Willie Nelson's 'Funny How Time Slips Away' is accented by Briggs' lilting piano fills and Burton's guitar. It's said that the idea of a country album germinated when Elvis and his team realized the kind of groove the band had been creating in the studio, and there are many vivid instrumental contributions. The virtuoso Burton brings his distinct dobro to Shirl Milete's 'It's Your Baby, You Rock It', and Buddy Spicher's overdubbed fiddle graces the sensitive 'Little Cabin on the Hill.'
In addition to the full '10,000 Years Ago', 'Elvis Country' is expanded with a brief, frenetic studio jam of Flatt and Scruggs' 'A Hundred Years From Now' first issued on The Essential ‘70s Masters box set, and another Dallas Frazier song, 'Where Did They Go, Lord', the non-LP single. Hit the jump to receive some 'Love Letters from Elvis!' 'Love Letters' from Elvis was built largely around the unused material from 'Elvis Country' and lacks the consistency of the prior release. While it's without a question the lesser album, it's a solid companion, emphasizing (out of necessity) the singer's softer side, though far from exclusively. The title song, a 1945 movie song by Victor Young and Edward Heyman, was already a hit for Elvis in a 1966 version; though the voice was rather more burnished by this point, he managed to sing it in 1970 in the same key and with a very similar arrangement. He's likewise gentle on Fred Karger, Sid Wayne and Ben Weisman's 'I'll Never Know'.
British songwriter Geoff Stephens ('Winchester Cathedral', 'A Kind of Hush') contributed two songs. The brassy, Tom Jones-flavored 'Heart of Rome' features Elvis belting out its big melody, replete with La-la-la-la-las, while 'This is Our Dance' is a thinly-veiled rewrite of Engelbert Humperdinck's 'The Last Waltz' which was written in part by Stephens' co-writer Les Reed. 'This is Our Dance' hardly matched the success of that song, and is devoid of even a snatch of Southern soul. But it makes for an enjoyable MOR diversion. (Stephens' 'Sylvia', also co-written with Reed, appears here as a bonus track, having first premiered on Elvis Now.) A diversion of another sort came from 'Got My Mojo Working' (incorporating a bit of 'Keep Your Hands Off Of It') on which Elvis certainly does, as well as from 'Cindy, Cindy', an incendiary rockabilly number given a makeover with an unstoppable drum beat, harmonica, horns and of course, James Burton's typically smoking guitar.
Shirl Milete, whose 'It's Your Baby, Rock It' appeared on 'Elvis Country', further benefited from The King's patronage with two more tracks on Love Letters including the twangy 'When I'm Over You' and the grandiose and unusual single 'Life.' The spacey, quasi-spiritual anthem ('Somewhere out in empty space, long before the human race/Something stirred, a vast and timeless source began/Intelligence was born and then, there was the world…') was hardly standard fare for Elvis. The experiment doesn't exactly work, and sits uncomfortably next to the stronger titles, concerned with either love or lust. But nobody could accuse Elvis of not throwing himself into the song, and his vocal is far from a detached one.
In addition to 'Sylvia', two more 1971 single sides have been added to the 'Love Letters' line-up: Elvis' full-voiced take on the Tony Bennett favorite 'Rags to Riches', composed by Richard Adler of Damn Yankees and The Pajama Game fame, and The Sound of Your Cry' by the Brill Building team of Bill Giant, Bernie Baum and Florence Kaye. The Giant/Baum/Kaye team was one of the most frequent suppliers of songs for Elvis, and also penned songs for artists ranging from Lou Johnson to The Everly Brothers.
As with all of the Presley Legacy Editions, the albums are presented in their best sound yet of the CD era. Vic Anesini has remastered beautifully, bringing out the nuances in each track. It's too bad that room couldn't be found for the dedicated mono single mixes of these albums' related singles, but the package is otherwise a solid accounting of this period. Stuart Colman contributes a strong essay about each of the two included albums, discussing each song and performance in detail. The familiar orange RCA labels grace each CD, and you'll find the front and back covers of each album reproduced. The original poster enclosed with 'Elvis Country' is also reprinted under the trays of the digipak, and there are full color photographs a-plenty.
Elvis Country Legacy Edition : The Discs.
Digging A Little Deeper
Included in the new package on CD one is the original 12-song 'Elvis Country' (subtitled 'I'm 10,000 Years Old'), which debuted January 23, 1971, on the Billboard 200 album chart. The album peaked at #12, spent 21 weeks on the chart, and was certified RIAA gold. Three bonus tracks are drawn from the original recording sessions of June and September 1970 (more info below). On CD two, from the June sessions, comes the original 11-song Love Letters From Elvis (chart debut June 26, 1971, peak position # 33, 15 weeks on the chart), also with three bonus tracks from the original sessions. In his liner notes to 'Elvis Country': Legacy Edition, 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.' Colman, a veteran British rock musician since the '60s, is also a prolific album notes writer and compilation producer, with a special interest in roots rock, rockabilly, and early R&B.
Upon Elvis Country's 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 Years' (a track that did not appear on the original album but does appear on this Legacy 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' (which gives Jerry Lee Lewis a run for the money), to the big ballads that were becoming an Elvis trade¬mark (Eddy Arnold's 'I Really Don't Want To Know' and Willie Nelson's 'Funny How Time Slips Away' among them) were some of Elvis' greatest performances ever.
The songs chosen for Love Letters From Elvis from the June 1970 sessions 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 that were chosen as singles, 'Rags To Riches' (the Tony Bennett hit of 1953), the inspirational 'Only Believe', and 'Life.' The latter was one of three cuts from up-and-coming songwriter Shirl Milete covered at the June sessions, along with 'When I'm Over You' and 'It's Your Baby, You Rock It'.
Elvis Country was a breath of fresh air for most of his millions of fans, and signaled a renaissance of his creative energies. Prior to 'Elvis Country', his last album of original studio material (non-movie soundtrack material) was in 1969, when he recorded in Memphis at American Studios with producer Chips Moman. The result of those January and February hometown sessions was the landmark LP From Elvis In Memphis, and a year-long string of ‘comeback' hit singles that reestablished Elvis:
'In the Ghetto', 'Suspicious Minds', 'Don't Cry Daddy' and 'Kentucky Rain'. Three factors contributed to the totally reinvigorated image of Elvis Presley in the new decade of the 1970s: 1) the impact of the '68 Comeback Special' (i.e. the NBC broadcast of December 1968 that featured Elvis dressed in black leather); 2) the string of Memphis-recorded hits that began in the spring of 1969 (chronicled on From Elvis In Memphis: Legacy Edition, issued in 2009); and 3) Elvis' return to public performing which began in Las Vegas that summer and continued into January-February 1970 (as chronicled on On Stage: Legacy Edition, issued in 2010)
Those three factors over¬lapped the release of Change Of Habit in November 1969, the final (31st) Hollywood movie in Elvis' lifetime. In fact, prior to the 'Elvis Country' studio sessions of June and September 1970, and the International Hotel recordings in Las Vegas before that, the last time Elvis had set foot in any recording studio was in March 1969 to cut a handful of tracks at Decca Universal for Change Of Habit. After 1969, Elvis would no longer be saddled with movies he did not believe in, and movie soundtrack songs he believed in even less.
Into 1970, Elvis was performing two shows a night at the International Hotel during January-February, and then checked into the Houston Astrodome for a weekend (six shows) that netted a record-breaking gross with over 250,000 people in attendance. After a well-deserved break, he finally arrived in RCA's Studio B in Nashville the first week of June 1970. The last time he had recorded there was in January 1968 when he cut some tracks for that year's movie, Stay Away, Joe. It marked his final studio sessions with his own long-time bandmates (guitarist Scotty Moore and drummer D.J. Fontana) and the original Nashville ‘A-team' that had served him so well: guitarists Chip Young and Jerry Reed, pianist Floyd Cramer, bassist Bob Moore, drummer Buddy Harman, Pete Drake on steel guitar, Charlie McCoy on harmonica, and of course the Jordanaires.
By the time he returned two and a half years later, for the five nights of sessions (Thursday, June 4th through Monday, June 8th) that are discussed here, producer Felton Jarvis had assembled a whole new ‘A-team' (with Young and McCoy the only hold-overs). The new band had the feel of the Memphis hitmakers of 1969, mainly because their core members were part of the original Muscle Shoals sound which put that town on the map: bassist Norbert Putnam, pianist David Briggs, and drummer Jerry Carrigan. Add in masterful guitarist James Burton - who had become indispensable to Elvis after the two recent Las Vegas residencies - and the scene was set. There were inevitable contrasts to the tightly structured Memphis sessions, but it ended there. In Nashville, once the song-pluggers put in their suggestions, the rest was up to Elvis, who never ceased to surprise all who were present He laid down first and second takes with ease, and then turned around and initiated impromptu studio jams that kept the musicians firing on all cylinders. It all came to a head on the fourth night. After a couple of warm-ups (including Eddy Arnold's 'I Really Don't Want To Know'), they thought back to the country tunes they'd already recorded, and the idea of a country album began to take shape. In short order, Elvis laid down Bob Wills' western-swing standard 'Faded Love' and Ernest Tubb's 'Tomorrow Never Comes.' After cutting Hank Cochran's barroom weeper 'Make The World Go Away' (via Eddy Arnold), Elvis and crew moved on to Willie's 'Funny How Time Slips Away' and then 'I Washed My Hands In Muddy Water', familiar to rock and roll fans of Johnny Rivers, but originally a big country hit for Stonewall Jackson.
The whole crew reconvened for one night in September, a productive session that yielded 'Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On' and ultimately the opening track on the 'Elvis Country' LP, a cover of 'Snowbird'. Anne Murray's debut hit from that summer '70 was written by Gene MacLellan, composer of 'Put Your Hand In the Hand', another Canadian hit that Elvis covered. (The other two tracks from the session showed up later in '71 as the single, 'Where Did They Go, Lord' b/w 'Rags To Riches'.)
Barely five months separated the releases of 'Elvis Country' and 'Love Letters' From Elvis in 1970, and the two albums have always been regarded together in the Elvis canon. In mid-1971, Elvis returned to Studio B for a solid week of recording in May, and three follow-up nights in June, resulting in some 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. Ironically, Elvis never recorded again in Nashville's RCA Studio B.
In every way, 'Elvis Country': 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 Review : Elvis Country FTD Special Edition 2 CD Set by David Troedson
CD Review : Elvis Is Back! by David Adams
CD Review : From Elvis in Memphis by David Troedson
CD Review : From Elvis In Memphis by Tygrrius
CD Review : From Elvis in Memphis by Rolling Stone Magazine
CD Review : On Stage: Legacy Edition by David Adams
Elvis Country: Legacy Edition by Elvis Presley
Disc 1: Elvis Is Back (1960)
Make Me Know It
The Girl Of My Best Friend
I Will Be Home Again
Dirty, Dirty Feeling
Thrill Of Your Love
Such A Night
It Feels So Right
The Girl Next Door Went A'Walking
Like A Baby
Stuck On You
Fame And Fortune
It's Now Or Never
A Mess Of Blues
Are You Lonesome Tonight?
I Gotta Know
Disc 2: Something For Everybody (1961)
There's Always Me
Give Me The Right
It's A Sin
I'm Coming Home
In Your Arms
Put The Blame On Me
I Want You With Me
I Slipped, I Stumbled, I Fell
I Feel So Bad
(Marie's The Name Of) His Latest Flame
Good Luck Charm
Anything That's Part Of You
Elvis Presley and the band - Studio B, Nashville, June 1970
Top, (left to right): David Brigs, Norbert Putman, Elvis Presley, Al Pachucki, Jerry Carrigan; bottom: Felton Jarvis, Chip Young, Charlie McCoy, James Burton (Early morning hours June 9, 1970)
Guitar: James Burton, Harold Bradley ('Snowbird' only)
Percussion: Jerry Carrigan
Percussion & Vibes: Farrell Morris
Organ: David Briggs
Steel guitar: Weldon Myrick
Banjo: Bobby Thompson ('Little Cabin On The Hill' only)
Fiddle: Buddy Spicher ('Little Cabin On The Hill' only)
Trumpet: Charlie McCoy, George Tidwell, Don Sheffield, Glenn Baxter
Sax: Wayne Butler, Norman Ray
Trombone: Gene Mullins
Flue and Trombone: William Puett
Flute, Sax And Clarinet: Skip Lane
Vocals: The Imperials, The Jordanaires, Millie Kirkham, Mary (Jeannie) Greene, Mary Holladay, Ginger Holladay, Temple Riser, June Page, Sonja Montgomery, Dolores Edgin