Vinyl Vlog 474

Vinyl Vlog 474

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Thursday, 14 January 2021
COLUMN
‘Patch It Up’ from the 2LP variant of From Elvis in Nashville by Elvis Presley.

A deeper look at the grooves pressed into the 2LP From Elvis In Nashville set by Elvis Presley. Many detractors may (and have) claimed that the Seventies were a period of decline for Elvis Presley. Over a decade into his career, the singer had already scaled several mountains; Elvis had already broken through and helped to establish rock n’ roll as the dominant musical idiom of the twentieth century, had already written and recorded an enduring songbook of hits, had conquered movie theaters with a series of films which gave the singer a second career in its own right and even been to war. It was, very simply, a career without compare; but, by the Seventies, the tempo of it had begun to catch up with him. By the Seventies, trends had changed a few times over and the rock n’ roll idiom that Elvis was inextricably associated with had evolved. Elvis wasn’t on the cutting edge anymore.

It’s true that Elvis wasn’t the biggest game in pop music anymore by the Seventies, but he wasn’t closing up shop either. By 1970, Elvis recognized that times were changing, and he saw where he could fit in – so he began experimenting with his music. The singer had already tried his hand at rhythm & blues as well as hybrids of the form with the help of some of the country music the singer knew he had grown up with, so he began examining that more closely – and the results turned out to be excellent. This 2LP set is sort of like a greatest hits compilation of cuts culled from the marathon session which ultimately produced That’s The Way It Is (released in 1970), Elvis Country (released in 1971) and Love Letters from Elvis (also released in 1971) and once again reinvigorated the singer’s career for an even larger audience.

The sessions were great, obviously, and it’s very telling that the “greatest hits” nature of this set is also a double album presentation; therein lies the proof of how good the sessions were.

As good as the set does get, the 2LP vinyl presentation opens weakly with a bracing rendition of “You Don’t Have To Love Me” – which exemplifies how opulent and indulgent Elvis’ life had become by 1970. There, Elvis warbles melodramatically along in a manner which echoes the “Las Vegas” nature of the shows he was doing by then; gone is the sneer of the rock n’ roll which first won Elvis his audience, and the strapped-tight sound in its place is one which doesn’t feel as though it’s taking any risks or pushing any limits – a fact proven when listeners hear the in-studio discussion of the song, which includes Elvis himself saying, “Okay, let’s try it again” into the mic.

It doesn’t take long for the going to get a whole lot better as LP1 progresses. After a solid performance of “Mary In The Morning,” the Nashville players hit a stride with “Stranger In The Crowd.” There, the Wurlitzer keyboard which colors the cut really sparkles and adds some soul to the sound, while Jerry Carrington’s tight and truly remarkable work on the drum kit (how does anyone make a hi-hat sound affecting?! Carrington knows how) cuts so hard it can make a listener blink with even a gentle touch. The same kind of sensation continues into the almost church-y sound of the piano affixed to “How The Web Was Woven” before the band brings it on home with a great take of “I Got My Mojo Working (Keep Your Hands Off Of It)” to close the side. There, everything that was great about Elvis’ work in the early Seventies is present: the rock which won Elvis his audience is in effect and informed clearly by the ‘Country Boy Soul’ in the vocal as well as the guitars supplied by Chip Young and James Burton. While Elvis does play some guitar here too, he is not the star of the instrument’s play here; with a little country-fried, chicken pickin’ woven around that Wurlitzer and Hubert Putnam’s bass, the song is truly magical, and even Elvis knows it. When the singer accidentally lets a “motherfucker” slip in the song’s running, it was obious that the performance would never see the light of day within Elvis’ lifetime, but hearing it now makes such a foible completely understandable – the sessons are just that hot.

In much the same way that the A-side started, the B-side begins with a low-toned ballad in the form of “I’ve Lost You.” Now, that is good and that is fine – the piano balladry of it is a well-regarded staple of Elvis’ repertoire – but listeners will be waiting patiently for something with the spirit and fire of “Got My Mojo Working” – which eventually turns up in the rougher, more ragged take of “Patch It Up” which appears as the second cut on the side. There, while the performance itself is not perfect, (that Wurlitzer is the most plainly temperamental part of this 2LP set), its appearance in this set is absolutely a must-hear; Elvis’ vocal is spectacular, as is the band’s performance. Comparatively, “Just Pretend” (which follows “Patch It Up,” here) comes off as positively moribund, against the cut it follows. Granted, working around the timing of when each track was recorded is difficult, in this context, but trying to listen here absolutely screams for some re-sequencing. The songs are good, there’s no arguing that, but the momentum of the play gets disturbed regularly.

After “Just Pretend,” the energy picks up again with a great cover of Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Whole Lot-ta Shakin’ Goin’ On” (which doesn’t even try to replicate Jerry Lee’s piano playing, so just its focus to its own rock energy) and then shifts again with a cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Now, as good as the songs on the B-side of From Elvis In Nashville are, it’s also the most troublesome side of the set. The reason for that is simple: vinyl albums rely on the development of momentum to make it through their running in a satisfying manner – and this side simply does not have that quality. More than anywhere else in this 2LP set, it is the B-side which is somehow the least satisfying.

As problematic as a listener may find the B-side of From Elvis In Nashville to be, even those most frustrated will have to admit that the C-side of the album quickly and easily finds its way back to form, as it plays. Here, “Tomorrow Never Comes” re-establishes the grandeur which was Elvis in his “rock god” phase; he wrings every ounce of emotion into his vocal at the beginning of the song, and then out of it at its climax. Of course, critics will find a way to make the king’s performance sound mawkish, somehow, but the fact of the matter is that this performance is epic without coming off as contrived and it’s a great way to begin a side. When listeners hear Elvis sustain the last syllable of his vocal in this song, they will simply be held in awe – and that the epic tone fades in seconds to the roadhouse rock that the take of “Faded Love” which follows it so easily will prove how hard they’ve been hooked.

While it is difficult to say that “Faded Love” is a very well-polished permutation of a ‘roadhouse blues’ kind of a cut, it’s claiming that the performance isn’t pretty fantastic which would be the height of rock critic snobbery, particularly given that the song’s evolution is easy to trace. The combination of James Burton’s guitar, David Briggs’ piano and Charlie McCoy’s harmonica echoes the form that The Doors slid into for their “Roadhouse Blues” and gives both cuts some justifiable credibility – albeit for different reasons; in this case, Elvis proves that he can still outshine his contemporaries and beat them at their own game, with the right assistance. That sense endures through the smoldering “I Really Don’t Want To Know” as well as the rocky spiritual, “I Was Born 10, 000 Years Ago” before crashing and burning through the wholly overwrought “Make The World Go Away.” There again, the song suffers because it’s just too much (too much emotion, too many minor chords and too much over-baked effort put in) and presents the eye-rolling sort of nonsense that critics would skewer Elvis from the Nashville sessions until the end of his career; the overuse of “what should work” is just frustrating here, and listeners will be happy to see it go when the needle lifts.

…And finally, the D-side of From Elvis In Nashville attempts to shoehorn the last moments of what needs to be in this 2LP set from the 4CD set (seven songs, compared to every other side’s five)i – but it doesn’t feel at all cramped. True, the saccharine-encrusted, mid-tmpo opener, “Funny How Time Slips Away,” could have been omitted (too much Elvis-brand sorrow tends to cause yawns), but the aborted country of “Faded Love” rings alright and the lighthearted take of “The Fool” which appears actually shines, unexpectedly (because, again, it sounds like a Doors demo). Some later songs are loose – “Cabin on The Hill” feels like a scrap vocal take – and illustrate that the sessions were beginning to fall apart before the tape ran out, but “I Washed My Hands In Muddy Water” illustrates that the band was capable of expressing genius, even as the head of the outfit was beginning to lose interest.

After the needle has lifted from the final side of From Elvis In Nashville, it’s easy to make a few claims about the record’s quality and just as easy to make a few criticisms. In this critic’s case, while many of the cuts which were chosen to appear on the 2LP set are great, there are some which were left off (and which do appear on the 4CD variant) which qualify as deal-breakers. That’s the problem – the 2LP set is good, but there’s no question that it could be great. For that reason, if listeners have the money, I would say that the 4CD set is a better buy. The 2LP set has its charms and is good, but those who hear the 4CD set KNOW it could be better. [Bill Adams]

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Album:
The 2LP version of From Elvis In Nashville is out now. Buy it here on Amazon.

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