Saturday, September 6, 2014

SPAZ reviews the 2CD Legacy Edition of THAT'S THE WAY IT IS!



Yes, he's the King Of Rock 'n' Roll, but anything that Elvis Presley has done since his stint in the Army is often written off as mediocre compared to his classic mid-'50s sides.  Well, I beg to differ.

I agree that he never recorded anything as primal as those Sun and early RCA releases, but he still possessed one of the finest voices in Rock 'n' Roll up through his death in 1977.

His 'movie' period, which lasted most of the '60s, has been overlooked. What people fail to recognize is the fact that the Elvis of the '60s had matured and moved on from his hip-swiveling younger '50s self and had become an entertainer and not a rocker.  Preferring to make cheesy B-movies instead of tour may not have been the best of ideas (thanks, Colonel Parker) but Elvis made the best of his situation and at least attempted to have fun while making a paycheck.  The music wasn't always up to par but his vocals were never short of excellent.  He almost always seemed like he was at least having fun with the material (which ranged from banal to fantastic).

When Elvis didn't 'connect' with a song, it was always obvious.  By the time he worked his way out of the movies in the late '60s, his voice was at its peak.  From '68 up through '71, any song he sang sounded great no matter how much or how little emotion Elvis invested into it.  When he took to the stage in Vegas for the first time in '69, his set consisted of new material, covers of recent hits... and quick run-throughs of his '50s gems.  At this point in his career, what Elvis wanted to sing and what the public wanted to hear were two different things.  As a man in his mid-30s, Elvis felt he had matured and wanted to perform songs that he 'connected' with.  Singing "Hound Dog" and "Don't Be Cruel" were not a priority for him anymore and he usually sped through them just so he could get to a song that he wanted to sing.  Unfortunately, Elvis' career was built upon these hits so he was obligated to churn them out in each performance.When you listen to any of his live releases from '69 to '77, he never seemed to treat the songs with the respect that they deserved. However, if you listen to some of the newer material that he performed during those same shows, he sounded far more passionate and emotional.  Basically, he wasn't sick of the new material. It was still fresh to him so he gave it his all.

Elvis was treated like an oldies act when all he wanted to do was get up and sing and entertain. He was no longer the Rock 'n' Roll rebel. John Lennon once said that Elvis died when he went into the army and its figuratively true: his wild and youthful abandon was gone by 1960 and he became the consummate performer, an entertainer for all generations.  But the voice was still there, continuing to mature at the same rate his body did.

By the late '60s, he switched his focus from the movies to a TV program (now known as the '68 Comeback Special) and then to the stage - in Vegas!

Which brings us to That's The Way It Is, the soundtrack to the 1970 live performance film of the same name.  The movie follows Elvis rehearsing, recording and preparing for a run of Vegas performances in early '70. The accompanying soundtrack avoids the live versions of Elvis' hits and concentrates on new studio recordings as well as a few live versions of songs previously unreleased by Elvis at the time. First off, Elvis's voice at this point was amazing. He had smoothed out the edges that ignited the '68 TV special and dug deeper into his emotions.  He was still with Priscilla the the time, so his emotion was based around his excitement and energy in connecting with an audience again.  "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me", "The Next Step Is Love", "How The Web Was Woven", "Twenty Days & Twenty Nights" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water" are just some of the studio tracks that feature Elvis at his most dynamic.  And yes, this version of "Bridge..." is a studio recording although applause has been added at the end for some reason. "Patch It Up" and "I've Lost You" were recent single sides but the versions here are live. Of the rest of the live tracks, "I Just Can't Help Believing" is one of Elvis' most essential recordings (and is even better than the BJ Thomas original).  Though the album is both studio and live, it works extremely well as a stand-alone release as well as a companion to the movie.  This Legacy Edition adds a handful of non-album singles - all in their original mono mixes - as well as some alternate takes to entice the casual fan.  The second CD features an entire live set recorded during the same series of shows featured in the film.
(there is also a deluxe box set that features five more live shows on CD as well as two DVDs that contain the original theatrical release of the movie as well as the re-edit and remastered version).

If you are looking for primal Rock 'n' Roll, then this may not be a release for you.  But if you are looking for an example of how great Elvis was as a vocalist, performer and entertainer, then this one comes highly recommended.  One of his finest '70s albums!

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