Review - Elvis Ultimate Gospel CD
Having been born in the 40s and started listening to music in the fifties and sixties I knew and loved the music of Elvis Aaron Presley. Since that time I had followed him in his ups and downs until one day, in the summer of '77, while camping in Acadia National Park in Maine I went into Bar Harbor for some supplies and read a headline of a local paper reporting the death of this icon of rock and roll music. It's just a couple of months ago that I purchased another album of his again. It was Elvis Ultimate Gospel. This was released in 2004.
Though he made his mark by bringing black influences of music to the major markets of urban and middle America's white kids through 'Rock and Roll', it was in Gospel music that I believe the king excelled.
He sang and recorded a wide mix of this music in his 42 years of life. The 24 songs in this mix were recorded from 1957 through the 1970s when he died.
This CD has 24 tracks so I've lots to talk about. Much is also written from the perspective of a Christian who believes in the message of many of the songs.
This album starts off with a favorite at many Catholic charismatic conferences I've been to. (Yes, some Catholics do sing out in praise with arms extended and voices to full volume!) The hymn How Great Thou Art is sung with a reverent opening and then a big 'let go' in praise at end. People love to sing it out. Elvis gives this song that same reverence and completes with a big ending. He does the same with a number of other songs in the album including I Believe in the Man In the Sky
Elvis gets into a number of hand clapping revival gospel tunes that are straight 'rock and roll'. So High is one of them. I can picture him with his back and forth sway clapping his hands on each side as in 'Jail House Rock'. This is one the many 'energy' tunes that fill this CD Rock My Soul that comes later is another upbeat one. Look for Joshua Fit The Battle. Other like songs that rock are I, John and Bosom of Abraham.
It's songs like these that can attract those who enjoy Elvis' secular rock style. Don't be afraid the words won't hurt and the music is upbeat!
Amazing Grace is one of the standards he sings. Though this is a favorite song of mine it's one of his weakest on the disc. He gives much of the song over to his back-up choir. (who are excellent) but maybe I just wanted more of the King. This is generally a powerful song. It just didn't meet expectations. Even after hearing multiple times.
Crying in the Chapel
This was one of Elvis' biggest hits. It's one where he again uses his voice gently, understated. That's the beauty in this one. His voice is particularly mesmerising when used at half volume.
You'll Never Have To Walk Alone Again WOW!! This is one of the many such songs that just blew me away. Here a vibrant piano that reflects Elvis' power sounds out loud-and-clear. This song from Carousel by Rodgers and Hammerstein is quite short but Elvis comes back with a reprise that is extremely powerful. The choir is used well in this one. Another of this style is His Hand In Mine with a gentle piano and echoing vocals. No big ending here though.
Another hand clapping with harmonizing vocals is Swing Down Sweet Chariot. This is just plane fun to listen to. Elvis works this song with such ease playing with his vocals. He repeats this same playful use of voice in Milky White Way too.
Run On I didn't know this song. Man is it fun! Elvis is a preacher in this one shouting out the Word of the Lord. Rock Revival! The back ground vocals are exciting. I could see all these guys having a good time putting this one together. It's also a bit different in message from the loving message of God in many of the other songs. In this one 'ya better be good or ya gonna get cut down'. Here's his message to a philanderer.
...leave the little woman alone
cause one of these days mark my word
you gonna think that brother is going to work
you'll sneak up and knock on that door
that's all brother, you'll knock no more
He Touched Me is perhaps my favorite inspirational on the CD. I was listening to it a while before I realized that the song was written by Bill Gaither in 1963. I have been to the Gaither Homecoming Concerts and own a couple on DVD. It was at a recent concert in Portland, Maine when I learned it was Gaither's song when I heard his quartet sing it and lay claim the song. In any case, It's a favorite both by Gaither and Elvis. It is a beautiful witness to a person making a connection with their Lord.
Elvis Prepares To Come Home
Whoever did put this album together decided on a pensive close to it. Explanations follow.
Reach Out To Jesus is a song that brings on a melancholy mood in me. Elvis was apparently troubled in his last days. I wonder if Elvis was able to turn to Jesus, in the way he sings this song with seemingly such faith in voice, whether his life may have been different. The closing words in the song 'When you get discouraged just remember what to do, Reach Out to Jesus...He's Reaching Out To You'. By design of the arrangement of songs, this is the first of the six closing tunes where one could imagine that Elvis is singing words that look up to his Lord for help, solace and peace.
Who Am I? continues this same somber mood of the loss of Elvis and what he may still have been doing. I really feel he would have come back to his Gospel roots and did concerts with just that music. Ah, but who really knows. I digress.
The third of the six is Help Me. A sure shout out for help. His opening words in the song are,
'Lord help me walk another mile, just one more mile. I'm tired of walking all alone. Lord help me smile another smile, just one more time, You know I just can't make it on my own...'
Unfortunately no one here on earth seemed to be looking out for the King.
I enjoyed the brief harmonies in this one.
The next track Miracle of the Rosary I thought interesting being placed with these album-ending-songs that definitely reflect Elvis reaching out and preparing himself to move from this earth to the beyond. Though this song is to Mary, the mother of Jesus, I also see it as Elvis looking to once again meet his mother, who he adored.
The next to last track Elvis again calls out to the Lord in Take My Hand, Precious Lord (lead me home)
The CD ends with a final goodbye to all of us as Elvis sings the words, 'Well I'm tired and so weary but I must go along, hear the Lord come and calling, calling me away... There Will Be Peace In the Valley for Me Some Day'. This arrangement singing with the Jordanaires, who he did so much music with, is amazing. The harmonizing on this classic is beautiful to listen to.
Other songs on this ... song CD not mentioned earlier
Where Could I Go But To the Lord A bluesy tune that snaps well.
If the Lord Wasn't Walking By My Side Another hand clapper. Fun Praise!
Lead Me, Guide Me Organ and piano background
Another slow reverent is If We Never Meet Again (This side of Heaven)
The gift of this album is the work of Presley over two decades and yet it comes across very evenly without knowing which were earlier recordings and which later. I liked that. The recording's quality makes this easy to listen to.
It took me a few times through the CD to get a feel of the pace. Now I happen to like it. It's slow and reverent at times and then at just the right time, Elvis rocks it out. My particular attraction to this CD is the ease in which Elvis sings so many of these Gospel songs and you can tell that he is singing many as a prayer putting meaning and emotion into each word.
It's said that 'To sing once is to pray twice'. Elvis did that and more with his incredible voice. I believe this selection of Gospel music including revival rock, solemn hymns and traditional church numbers is an example of the gifts God gives to particular people in this world. Elvis had the gift to sing. Thankfully it is shared with us on albums such as Ultimate Gospel.
An excellent mix of Gospel hymns, and Gospel rock
Nothing worth noting
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Never before have we seen an Elvis Presley concert from the 1950's with sound. Until Now! The DVD Contains recently discovered unreleased film of Elvis performing 6 songs, including Heartbreak Hotel and Don't Be Cruel, live in Tupelo Mississippi 1956. Included we see a live performance of the elusive Long Tall Sally seen here for the first time ever. + Plus Bonus DVD Audio.
This is an excellent release no fan should be without it.
The 'parade' footage is good to see as it puts you in the right context with color and b&w footage. The interviews of Elvis' Parents are well worth hearing too. The afternoon show footage is wonderful and electrifying : Here is Elvis in his prime rocking and rolling in front of 11.000 people. Highly recommended.
Tupelo's Own Elvis Presley DVD Video with Sound.