Recorded in 1970 and released in 1971, Elvis Country was the culmination of a remarkable career resurrection. Starting with his 1968 Comeback Special, Elvis went on to reel off the brilliant From Elvis in Memphis (and the second-helping, Back in Memphis), the smartly constructed Vegas show of On Stage, and the studio/live That's the Way It Is. He capped the run with this 1971 return to his roots, branding these country, gospel, blues, rockabilly and western swing covers with authority. Elvis showed his genius was rooted in his passion for music, which encompassed everything from the early rockabilly of Sanford Clark's "The Fool" (written, surprisingly, by Lee Hazlewood) to the then-contemporary hit "Snowbird," as well as classics from Ernest Tubb, Lester Flatt & Bill Monroe, Willie Nelson and Hank Cochran.
Recorded in RCA's famed Studio B with Presley regulars James Burton, Charlie McCoy and Chip Young; the newly assembled studio hands included several players from the Muscle Shoals powerhouse, and the sessions were produced by Felton Jarvis. The arrangements ranged from loose, down home country jams to Vegas-styled orchestrations, and hearing the variety back-to-back, one quickly realizes how easily Elvis transcended the musical boundaries between his `50s roots and his glitzy `70s stage shows. Much like the 1969 American Studio sessions in Memphis, Elvis' enthusiasm and musicality directs the assembled players and provokes top-notch performances; he leads the crew through a rocking workout of Jerry Lee Lewis' "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" and brings "Tomorrow Never Comes" to a volcanic climax.
The original album tracks are knit together with snippets of "I Was Born About Ten Thousand Years Ago," a gimmick that some listeners find irritating, and which wreaks havoc on shuffle play; the complete take is included in the bonuses. An earlier CD reissue expanded the track count from twelve to eighteen, and this double-CD pushes the total to twenty-nine, including all six earlier bonuses. Disc two opens with the third-helping of the Nashville sessions, previously released as Love Letters from Elvis, and adds three more session bonuses: the singles "The Sound of Your Cry" and "Rags to Riches," and the album track "Sylvia." The broad range of material on Love Letters doesn't always connect with Elvis' legacy as tightly as that on Elvis Country, but Elvis is in fine voice on each track, and the assembled players are sharp.
Everything here's been issued before, but pulling together session material previously spread across singles, albums, box sets and latter-day compilations has created a superb recounting of the last chapter of Elvis' incredible comeback. Not included are the eight Nashville tracks released as part of That's the Way It Is. A third-disc with banded versions of Elvis Country (minus the musical segues, that is) would have been a great addition, but even without it, this is an excellent expansion upon previous standalone reissues, and a terrific complement to the Legacy editions of From Elvis in Memphis and On Stage. The remastered discs (by Vic Anesini) are housed in a tri-fold digipack with a booklet that includes liner notes by Stuart Colman and terrific photos. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]