OK, first, a disclaimer: if you’re expecting Elvis Presley to be fronting a band lead by Booker T Jones and Steve Cropper, it ain’t happening. You get a couple tunes with Donald Dunn/b and Al Jackson/dr, but that’s about it. This pair of sessions from 2 score years ago actually came about because The King just wanted to record with his regular band close to home so he could have his banana and peanut butter sandwiches just like mother used to make.
So, you have to talk Elvis on those terms. These three discs were on the heels of the wonderful Elvis Country album and in themselves became the hub of 1973-75’s Raised on Rock, Good Times and Promised Land respectively. This is in essence his last creative burst, and while the actual takes used for the albums have a polished veneer and sound a bit too slick, the first two discs that make up the causal rehearsals and outtakes are unbelievably and wonderfully raw, and is absolutely the most relaxed, uncommercial and down home Elvis had been since his days with Sun Records way back when.
On these first dry runs, Elvis’ voice is in earthy and country boy form, and along with his long time buds Charlie Hodge-James Burton/g, Ronnie Tutt-Jerry Carrigan/dr, Tommy Cogbill/es he includes some gospel-infused keyboardists and female vocalists. Also, very wisely, he hires modern composers like Tony Joe White and Danny O’Keefe to deliver some down home gritty material like ”I’ve Got a Thing About You Baby” and “Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues”. He gets back to his roots on Chuck Berry’s more obscure “Promised Land”, and sounds like the rock pioneer that he was on “Raised on Rock.” These three albums really never produced any hits; instead, like Tony Bennett, he wanted to put out a small canon of albums that reflected his artistry. Yes, the outtakes contain lots of casual studio chatter, but they are is enough variance between the versions as well as the tie in from the conversations to the actual songs to keep your interest. “Spanish Eyes” is bel canto Elvis at his best, while Jerry Reed’s “Talkin’ About Good Times” is the Elvis that we always wanted him to be. No hint of the yeast of Col. Parker until the actual more canned product that came out as the three albums back then that initially sounded like the beginning of Elvis’ downfall, but was actually a phoenix of the good ole’ boy. Just comparing the unissued take of “If You Talk in Your Sleep” with the actual “official” version will start off a conversation that could easily be thought of as the great “what if”.
Sony Legacy Records