Elvis Presley, “Elvis At Stax: Deluxe Edition” (RCA/Legacy)
“Elvis At Stax: Deluxe Edition,” a 3 CD set that contains all the tracks that Elvis Presley recorded at the Memphis-based Stax studio in 1973 (home to soul acts like Otis Redding and Booker T. & the M.G.’s), reveals how ill served Elvis Presley was by his management. He was still tethered to a contract that required him to release two albums and four singles a year, at a time when other artists of his stature were down to releasing just one album in the same time frame — if that.
As a consequence, the need for a constant flow of product meant that instead of culling the best 12 tracks out of these sessions to create one excellent album, the 28 tracks recorded in July and December 1973 were spread over three albums, none of which managed to crack the Top 40.
It’s a shame, because there’s enough good stuff here to create the kind of album that might have ranked up there with the classic “From Elvis in Memphis,” the 1969 album that pulled Presley’s career out its ’60s slump, and featured such hits as “In the Ghetto.” And there was the hope that the Stax sessions might produce the same kind of results.
As “Elvis At Stax” shows, when Presley’s interest was engaged, he was still capable of delivering an impressive performance. His cover of Danny O’Keefe’s “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues,” is appropriately bittersweet; “I Got a Feeling in My Body” is so funky you might miss the song’s religious connotations; “I’ve Got a Thing About You Baby” is a nice slice of country pop; and his take on Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land” is the last solid rocker he ever recorded.
Then there’s the dross — like “Three Corn Patches,” a limp track by the legendary songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller (who also wrote “Hound Dog” and “Jailhouse Rock”) that should’ve stayed in the vaults. The bland “Girl of Mine” and “If You Don’t Come Back” are equally uninspiring.
But it’s nonetheless fascinating to have all the tracks gathered in one place (and the set contains 27 outtakes, though none are previously unreleased). These were the last major sessions of Presley’s career, and his last in a Memphis studio. What you hear is an artist who’s willing to make an effort on occasion, but who doesn’t bother hiding his disinterest at other times; standing on the precipice before his final decline.