First Appeared in The Music Box, May 2010, Volume 17, #5
Written by John Metzger
Mon May 3, 2010, 06:30 AM CDT
Record label executives often get a lot of flak for the ways in which they reissue albums. Fortunately, they’ve gotten a lot smarter about it over the years. Instead of merely repackaging outings with only minor modifications, companies now are vigorously scanning their vaults for material that can provide insight into the creative processes that produced the endeavors. Sometimes, they also take steps to correct egregious mistakes that they had made in the past.
Because of the limitations of vinyl as well as corporate desires to maximize profits, albums were often limited, at most, to a dozen tracks. Yet, whenever a recording session was booked, artists frequently were pushed to complete as much new material as possible. As a result, some songs were issued only as singles, while others were held back for release on later endeavors. This aspect of the business plagued everyone from Miles Davis to The Beatles to Elvis Presley, and it often meant that the performer’s work was heard not only out of context but also in a piecemeal fashion.
By the early 1960s, the fire that had fueled Presley’s early singles had been extinguished almost entirely by the tedium of his schedule. In 1968, however, he rededicated himself to making music. In the wake of the blockbuster television special that had marked his comeback, Presley settled into a studio in Memphis. Demonstrating a renewed sense of passion for his craft, he once again sounded like a hungry, young performer, albeit one with an outlook that was wiser and more mature. The resulting endeavor (From Elvis in Memphis) contained a large portion of the material that he had recorded during these sessions. The rest of the tracks were either issued as singles or used to form the basis of his subsequent outing From Memphis to Vegas/From Vegas to Memphis.
In addition to increasing his involvement in his recordings, Presley also returned to the stage. To support From Elvis in Memphis, Presley scheduled a month-long string of shows at Las Vegas’ International Hotel in the summer of 1969. He returned to the venue for another extended run in early 1970. Selections from these concerts were split between On Stage and the opening half of From Memphis to Vegas/From Vegas to Memphis. Just as last year’s two-disc installment of From Elvis in Memphis pulled together all of the studio material from this moment in Presley’s career, On Stage: Legacy Edition combines both of the live outings that had supplemented the set while also adding 10 additional selections.
On Stage: Legacy Edition does not try to replicate Presley’s concerts from the era. Instead, it reproduces the original track listings of the albums from which it was culled. The first half of the collection emphasizes Presley’s renditions of contemporary material, while the latter portion revisits the hits that had made him a star. Consequently, On Stage: Legacy Edition falters, at times, because of its inadequate pacing. A handful of unoriginal selections — of which Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline and The Beatles’ Yesterday are the most egregious examples — also mar the proceedings. Nevertheless, by showcasing Presley’s charisma as well as his vocal ability, On Stage: Legacy Edition accomplishes everything the original outings were meant to do, thereby making a strong case for his rejuvenated vitality.
After a nine-year hiatus from live performances, it would have been reasonable to assume that Presley might have been rusty. These days, Auto-Tune technology is utilized to repair deficiencies in a singer’s vocals, including those that occur as the result of an energetic routine. Throughout On Stage: Legacy Edition, however, Presley’s delivery is remarkably strong, despite the fact that he kept pushing himself to his limit, making it necessary that he pause on occasion to catch his breath before plunging into another selection. While it’s true that tracks like All Shook Up and Blue Suede Shoes are missing some of the exuberant intensity of their studio counterparts, Presley clearly was intent on giving his fans everything he had. A scintillating rendition of Ray Charles’ I Got a Woman as well as blistering union of Mystery Train and Tiger Man are proof for those who need it.
With the addition of From Elvis in Memphis to his canon, Presley’s output grew remarkably broad, especially for a pop artist. On Stage: Legacy Edition highlights the increasingly eclectic nature of his approach. By this point in his career, he was as capable of settling into a country-tinged ballad (Are You Lonesome Tonight?) as he was of offering a fiery blast of Memphis soul (Polk Salad Annie). Gospel textures crept into the rousing refrains of See See Rider, and all of Presley’s personal angst seeped into his emotional rendition of Suspicious Minds. Although the schmaltzy aura that consumed his final years is visible during portions of On Stage: Legacy Edition, Presley was largely able to keep it at bay by feeding off the energetic response of both his audience and his exquisite backing band. For the first time in many years, Presley sounded like he was having fun. ½
Of Further Interest...
On Stage: Legacy Edition is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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