Elvis may be long gone but his music just keeps on coming in various incarnations and combinations. The latest release is the 3-CD box set, Elvis at Stax, the “Deluxe Edition.”
While all the material has been available in various forms and on multiple albums, the concept for this release is solid. Gather together the tracks from the last major studio recording sessions of his career, which took place at Stax Studios in Memphis, add in a number of outtakes, put them in some semblance of order, select a number of archival pictures, put together a booklet that provides a history of the sessions, and you have a cogent look at a specific period in the career of Elvis Presley.
The 1970s were a hit-and-miss period for Elvis. His studio albums were somewhat haphazard affairs of hastily recorded songs of the day. Some worked and some did not. Many of his live albums repeated the same songs over and over again. The one constant during this period was his single releases. They were polished, well recorded, found Elvis engaged, and were consistently excellent. The tracks issued as singles from his various Stax sessions are the highlights of the release.
Included in the set are rocking versions of “Promised Land” and “Raised on Rock,” country hits “Take Good Care of Her,” “It’s Midnight,” “If You Talk in Your Sleep,” “Help Me,” and the pop songs “My Boy” and “Thinking About You.” They prove that even as his health and enthusiasm were beginning to decline, he could still produce extremely good music when motivated.
The album tracks are a different matter. Most of them were issued on the albums Good Times, Raised on Rock/For Ol’ Times Sake, and Promised Land. While there may be a good performance here and there, the albums are not among the best of his career and many of the songs demonstrate why.
There are almost two discs worth of alternate takes. There is always the somewhat interesting question of why such takes as number four of “Your Love’s Been a Long Time Coming” and take nine of “Girl of Mine” were selected over others, but so be it.
The sound is good but limited somewhat by the Stax Recording Studio’s equipment of the day. It still had an eight track system rather than 16, which had become fairly common. On the positive side, Elvis always surrounded himself with the best session musicians available. Guitarist James Burton and drummer Ronnie Tutt were part of his touring band and they were joined by such artists as bassist Donald Dunn, drummer Alan Jackson, vocalist Kathy Westmoreland, and the ever present J.D. Sumner & The Stamps, among others.
Elvis at Stax [Deluxe Edition] is not the place to introduce yourself to the music of Elvis Presley. It is a release for the fan who wants everything or the collector who wants to dig a little deeper into his legacy with this snapshot of his time spent at Stax.