Many periods of Elvis Presley's career as a studio recording artist can be admired: the raw, natural magic of Sun Studios in 1954-55, the rock'n'roll explosion at RCA in 1956-58, the mature, eclectic and skilled stylist of 1960-61, or the impassioned soul rocker at American Studios in 1969. So much majestic, timeless and utterly incandescent music! It's hard to believe it all came from the same guy, yet it did.
For pure, unchained sexuality, perhaps the 1960 recordings from Nashville in March and April right after his Army discharge takes the prize. With Scotty and D.J. from his original band, along with Bob Moore on bass, Hank Garland on lead guitar, Boots Randolph on sax, Buddy Harman on second drums (!), and Floyd Cramer playing piano, Elvis had a band that could do anything and a voice that could sing everything. The 18 songs done at these two sessions are among the best and most successful of his entire career: they are a privilege to own and always a thrill to hear. What an incredible vocalist!
It becomes even more exciting to learn how these masterworks were developed. Back about six years ago, 'The Nashville Sessions 1960-61' was a spine-tingling 72-minute CD release, containing 10 unreleased alternates from these post-Army dates alone (plus several from Oct '60 and Mar'61). Since then, several other labels, including RCA/BMG ('Platinum'), have released some of these alternates as well. But 'Nashville' was first!
The listener gets to sit in the middle of studio "B" with Presley as he works through the fabulous blues of "Like A Baby," which starts with Elvis' playing along with the opening riff on his acoustic until he admits it's killing his concentration ("I can't make it"). Five takes later he is almost home, but the path getting there is hard-core blues heaven (six became the master). There is a beautiful stretch of takes on the aching ballad "Soldier Boy" as well as three tries at his sexy, percussive cover of "Fever."
From the gospel sessions of Oct'60 there are different versions of "Working On The Building" (take 2 finds the Jordanaires finishing the ending without Elvis) and "He Knows Just What I Need" (a slightly slower but lovely take 8). The 'Something For Everybody' recordings of Mar'61 yield lovely variants of Hank Garland's fluid lead guitar during three run-throughs of Charlie Rich's "I'm Coming Home" and nicely understated tries at "It's A Sin," originally waxed by Eddy Arnold. An almost perfect first attempt of "I Want You With Me" is heard here twice in a row for some reason, once complete, another not.
The disc sports a few nice color shots from 1962-63, which almost makes up for the fact that most of the tracks run a bit too fast (!) and there are a few master takes slipped in, albeit with some pre-take dialogue (like on "Such A Night," "Surrender," "Gently" and "In Your Arms").
If 'Nashville' were all we had from this era, it'd be a godsend. As it stands, it's a very good collection for anyone interested in learning more about how Elvis didn't "die" after he went into the Army.
Reviewed by Johnny Savage, USA
Sound rate ***