Elvis At Stax: Deluxe Edition (Box Set)

Elvis Presley

RCA Legacy, 2013

http://www.elvis.com

REVIEW BY: Curtis Jones

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/19/2013

Although no one really knew it yet, by the summer of 1973, the great Elvis Presley comeback that had begun in 1968 was over.  Culminating in his Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite concert broadcast and accompanying album, the King was about to embark on the waning years of his career and life. But since he was still in comeback mode, he set about recording studio material as he was contractually obligated to do.

As I have noted elsewhere on the Daily Vault, Elvis’ true studio work is difficult to pinpoint throughout his career.  While other 1960s and ‘70s artists would enter the studio and produce a cohesive product, Presley’s albums were a hodgepodge of studio work that could be years old by the time it was released, or they could be live albums like Aloha.  Furthermore, the bulk of Presley’s popular work in the ‘50s and ‘60s was not on his albums at all, but instead only released as singles.  In this, he was an entertainer cut very much from the mold of straight laced singers like Frank Sinatra or others from the previous era of recorded popular music.  This doesn’t diminish the shine that some of his work had, but the obvious ploys to make a dollar from a slab of vinyl with a picture of Elvis on the cover make looking for quality studio work from one of the 20th century’s most recognizable performers a labor of love.

The Elvis At Stax: Deluxe Editionmy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 does make this effort a little easier.  This new collection compiles outtakes and masters from the sessions Elvis had at the legendary Stax Recording Studio in Memphis in July and December 1973.  Since the masters from these sessions had previously been strewn across three RCA released albums in the ‘70s, it was previously impossible to really appreciate the studio presence of the performers, especially since RCA liked to keep up the money machine by putting out compilations and live performances as albums between the studio works.  But here, presented as a cohesive work, it is possible to think that had Col. Tom Parker and RCA had more of their wits about them at the time, perhaps a solid studio album on par with Elvis’ first two studio works in 1956 and 1957 could have been possible.  Throughout this set, the consummate musical professionalism of the TCB band is front and center.  There was little working out of material.  Elvis might as well have been singing to pre-recorded tracks, as some of the songs appear pretty much whole through different outtakes and versions of the same tunes.  There are some powerful tunes here.  The religiously driven “I Got A Feelin’ In My Body” and “Talk About The Good Times” shine as well as pop numbers like “I’ve Got A Thing About You, Babe,” “Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues,” “If You Talk In Your Sleep,” and “Promised Land.”  Elvis makes solid work of slower tunes like “Mr. Songman” and “Love Song Of The Year,” and there is even an awesome version of the Dottie Rambo southern gospel staple “If That Isn’t Love.”  Yet as typical of the well of Presley material (which he never originally wrote, but relied solely upon contracted songwriters to produce) there are some downright silly songs like “Three Corn Patches,” “Take Good Care Of Her,” and “My Boy” (pronounced “Ma buah” in the Presley drawl). 

Sadly, because of the dearth of Presley studio material, some of that silliness was preserved and released by RCA simply to fill vinyl over the next few years as the Raised On Rock, Good Times, and Promised Land albumsPerhaps if Elvis had been more diligent about taking to the studio with new music (or got a new pool of songwriters), and if RCA did not sprinkle in a live or compilation album between every studio offering, the resurgence in his career could have continued.  It might also have helped if almost every album cover from the ‘70s did not show him at a live show, making the entirety of the catalog look at first glance like they were warmed up re-dos and live cuts.  Presley would not go back into a studio until 1975, and then it would be for the last time.  Stax shows a professional at work, with the bulk of it being good material, but it also quite literally chronicles the beginning of the end for this icon.

Rating: B-

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