The people who have this "camp" image of Elvis Presley at the end of his life as an overweight, prescription drug-addicted parody of what he had once been would do well to remember that, at his best, there were only a handful of others that could even come close to matching him, and none that could surpass him--and that includes Michael Jackson, and Garth Brooks.
As of late, RCA has gone out of its way to shine the light on a most productive period of the King's life, that being the period between 1969 and 1972, when, emboldened by his 1968 NBC-TV special, he had regained his footing as perhaps the greatest singer in 20th century American popular music. Back in 2009, they had released FROM ELVIS IN MEMPHIS and BACK IN MEMPHIS together in a Legacy Edition that bought together everything the King did with Chips Moman in his hometown of Memphis in early 1969. In 2010, they came out with another Legacy Edition, one that combined the 1970 album ON STAGE with the first LP of the 2-LP 1969 FROM MEMPHIS TO VEGAS/FROM VEGAS TO MEMPHIS; both of those albums touched on Elvis' first two engagements in Las Vegas, in August 1969 and February 1970. And here, they have come up with another Legacy Edition. This time, it is combining two albums of Elvis' from 1971--ELVIS COUNTRY; and LOVE LETTERS FROM ELVIS.
Both albums came about from sessions that the King did with his usual backing band and producer Felton Jarvis in Nashville during the summer of 1970. As can be indicated by the title ELVIS COUNTRY, Elvis was venturing back to his more rustic country roots, much as FROM ELVIS IN MEMPHIS was a largely R&B/pop enterprise. Even so, and even with "I Was Born 10,000 Years Ago" still being inserted in-between songs, the King didn't think in simplistic and narrow terms, as can be gauged by the Memphis R&B-style brass put on his version of the Eddy Arnold classic "I Really Don't Want To Know", an amped-up version of Sanford Clark's rockabilly classic "The Fool", and a version of "Whole Lotta Shakin'" that comes very close to the version that Elvis' contemporary Jerry Lee Lewis made so famous in 1957. Occasionally there's a bit more orchestral bombast than there needs to be (like on the Ernest Tubb classic "Tomorrow Never Comes"), something that would overwhelm later albums; but all in all, it isn't hard to see why ELVIS COUNTRY, in its original context, was a big hit album, climbing to #12 on the Billboard Top 200 Album Chart (and #6 on the magazine's Country Album Chart), and becoming yet another million-seller in the King's collection upon its release in January 1971. "I Really Don't Want To Know" managed to do fairly well as a single as well, reaching #21 on the Hot 100.
The second CD in this Legacy Edition is actually the album that followed ELVIS COUNTRY, namely LOVE LETERS FROM ELVIS, which got up to a respectable #33 upon its release in June 1971 but was shockingly panned by critics, who were noticing the King starting to slip into what they saw (perhaps rightly) as a penchant for morose ballads and MOR bombast. This really isn't the case just quite yet, if the King's scintillating take on "Got My Mojo Working" is any indication. The title track is really a reworking of the 1962 Ketty Lester hit "Love Letters" that Elvis had originally recorded back in 1966 and got to #19 on the singles chart; while the gospel-style "Only Believe" and the poignant, almost New Age ballad "Life" see Elvis poised between the sacred and the secular. This album was cobbled from the same sessions that yielded ELVIS COUNTRY; and while it is considered an inferior album to what he had done dating to the Chips Moman sessions of 1969, it's nowhere near as bad as the critics said it was.
It really wasn't until after the 1973 ALOHA FROM HAWAII special that Elvis' personal and pharmaceutical issues overwhelmed him; but once they did, even with the bursts of hits still yet to be, it was a sad and horrible slide to the bitter end. But in the final analysis, Elvis should be remembered for the staggering amount of music and memories he bought to the table, and not as a joke or a comedian's punch line. His legacy endures, and this incredible collection is sold-gold proof of it.