By Gillian G. Gaar
“From Elvis In Memphis” opens with the line “I had to leave town for a little while” — an appropriate beginning for the first album recorded in Presley’s hometown since the far-off days of Sun Records in the mid-’50s. It was now 1969, and Presley’s career had been on the ropes for some time, diluted by a series of increasingly weak films and their accompanying soundtracks. But the success of his December 1968 television special “Elvis” provided the spark that reignited him, and “From Elvis In Memphis,” released in June 1969, was the fulfillment of that reawakened promise.
Presley was predominantly a singles artist; we talk about classic songs like “That’s All Right (Mama),” “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight?,” none of which were originally released on albums. “From Elvis In Memphis” is one of the few albums Presley released that hangs together as a cohesive work, alongside his first post-army album, “Elvis Is Back.” But where the latter album showcases Presley tackling a variety of musical styles, “From Elvis In Memphis” stays in a bluesy, soulful groove, colored throughout with a gravitas that reveals the deep connection Presley had with the material.
It’s the expressiveness of Presley’s performances that makes the album cut deep — the resilience evident in “Only the Strong Survive,” the wistfulness that comes from watching a relationship end in “Any Day Now.” It’s not all down-hearted; Presley kicks back and has fun with “I’m Movin’ On” and the gutsy “Power of My Love.” But the somber “In The Ghetto,” which closes the album, is more indicative of where this record’s emotional heart is.