Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Elvis’ First Albums After the Army Get a New Look

The brand-new reissue of Elvis Is Back – a twofer with Presley’s subsequent 1960 album Something for Everybody, plus a whole slew of singles, some of them iconic, some mostly forgotten – is just out from Sony. The argument’s been made that Elvis Is Back was his best album, and that’s not true: he did his best work for Sun, and then in the 70s when he was on autopilot, but with an amazing band behind him ( and the ’68 comeback isn’t bad either). But this period piece – an essential collectors item for the Elvis cult – still oozes energy. Let’s not forget that only two years earlier, his career had been put on hold by racists who were terrified that the era’s best-loved pop culture figure was converting young white people to black music faster than any racist could stop him. So whatever his experiences were in the Army, there’s no doubt that Elvis was glad to be back – and the musicians behind him obviously agreed.

Interestingly, Elvis Is Back is mostly an album of ballads: that they stand up as well as they do fifty years later testifies to how much care and anticipation went into this. The shuffling David Lynchian vibe of Girl Next Door Went a-Walking is still irresistible, and the blues numbers, Reconsider Baby and It Feels So Right foreshadow what would sustain him so effectively throughout the ’68 special. Done with only bass and percussion, his cover of The Fever falls somewhere between the Peggy Lee hit and the Cramps. And Such a Night reminds how much more sophisticated a singer he’d become since he’d first recorded the old Drifters hit in 1954: it’s Elvis and band doing the Rat Pack, right down to the nonchalant exuberance of the drum outro.

That Elvis and the band could have recorded all but one of the dozen tracks on Something for Everybody in one night – or have been subjected to that by the label, considering his artistic status, never mind his value to them – is pretty remarkable. Then again, that was how albums were made in those days. Elvis sounds no worse for the marathon, and the band rises to the occasion as well. The real stunner here is the perfectly Orbisonesque noir pop ballad There’s Always Me, capped off by an unexpectedly explosive outro. Did a teenage Van Dyke Parks play along to the creepy music box piano of It’s a Sin? Did a young Roger McGuinn do the same with the proto folk-pop of Gently? Did the Searchers use the boisterous uptempo guitar blues of Put the Blame on Me as the prototype for an entire career? It would seem so.

To sweeten the pot, there are also a dozen singles included. In hindsight, Fame and Fortune (which Arthur Kent ripped off for Skeeter Davis’ The End of the World) stands out as a dismissal of celebrity that might be far less ironic than it seems. As a blueprint for Mark Sinnis’ Mistaken for Love, Are You Lonesome Tonight takes on a new intensity. And the completely over-the-top tango Surrender, with its James Bond ambience, is impossible to hear without smiling. The rest of the stuff either burned out long ago on oldies radio or never made it that far to begin with. All together, this trip back to a time before autotune is an awful lot of fun.

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March 7, 2011 Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment