ALTERNATE TAKE 13
with Steve Barile
RATIONALLY DEFENDING AMERICA
I, of sound and rational, heart and mind, am about to attempt the impossible: defend America. Given the fact that rationality is such a rare commodity and the current state of America’s irrational policies, one can only try to apply his or her flawless logic to yet another unique release from FTD simply (but irrationally) titled “America.”
Although I shy away from e-mailing, texting and frequenting chat rooms, the Elvis chat on the message boards has an uncanny way of filtering into my consciousness. It is on these message boards where pure irrationality truly resides. Take for instance, the incessant, negative rhetoric surrounding the recently released “Love Letters” FTD. A double cd set containing all newly remastered masters from the original 1971 album, undubbed masters, alternate takes and “fly on the wall” studio dialogue. As was typical of an Elvis album of the day, the collection is an eclectic one truly featuring something for everybody and exhibiting vocal versatility as flawless as my logic. Here the master treats us to rock, pop, country, gospel and ballads. I for one am certainly missing a rational reason for complaint regarding this set. I was recently informed that one person even spoke of adding background music to the undubbed masters! A vulgar display of irrationality, wouldn’t you say? Do these knuckleheads hear themselves? Take note: musical taste is one thing, performance quality is another. In simpler terms, one may not like a particular song but that doesn’t diminish Elvis’ performance of it which brings me to the defense of the “America” cd.
According to the apparently irrational and tone-deaf message board heads, 1976 was not a very good year for Elvis. The most common comments are usually along the lines of him being fat, lazy and musically repetitive. At this particular juncture, if I may, I’d like to address and briefly dissect the above derogatory labels. Dare I suggest to the fat-phobics that on his worst day, Elvis looked better than most on their best! He could always tap into his vocal brilliance on command and the extra poundage couldn’t diminish the thrilling and unique presence of his aura. Given Elvis’ physical and mental state during 1976 and 1977, one could surely make a very strong case against laziness. He worked at touring America with a fervor including stints in Vegas and Tahoe and managed to record more than an album’s worth of fine music all during these last years of his life. The “lazy” label no longer seems to apply. Although Elvis’ chosen set-list of 1976 can be labeled repetitious, Elvis cannot! He never sang the same song the same way twice! This concept is exhibited and proven on “America,” the bulk of which was recorded in Omaha, Nebraska during the first part of 1976 and was intended to serve as a demo for the background singers. Despite the unbalanced mix, the disc is chock full of superb vocals by Elvis and with the ability to set aside the calamities of the mind and the obtrusive mix, concentration on Elvis is not only possible but required for optimum appreciation.
Indulge me if you will and pay close attention to Elvis on “ I Got a Woman”. To my ear, he’s rockin’ his ass off! “ Mountain’s” end vocal is improvisational and “Trying to Get to You” is bluesy and authentic. The recitation on “ America the Beautiful” is a standout and Elvis is obviously rockin’ again for “ Polk Salad”. “ Hurt” is dramatic and powerful and “Help Me” has its share of “new” inflections. Next, we are treated to the definitive version of “ How Great Thou Art”. This is the best version I’ve heard to date! A bold statement indeed, but the proof emanates from my towers as we speak. Even the mix on this track seems far more acceptable than the rest. (divine intervention perhaps?) The performance of this Gospel classic is such that the clear choice of the cd’s title should have been “Elvis – How Great Thou Art.” I personally think this disc is worth every penny and then some for this track alone. The very last note Elvis hits on “ Now or Never” is positively shocking.
With impeccable packaging that includes photos depicting the Elvis of the day, and a truly mesmerizing cover, I’m left no choice but to defend “America”. What’s your vote now?
God Bless “America,” Steve Barile
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