By Bruce Sylvester
The deeper “The Mike Eldred Trio” (Rip Cat) digs into American roots music, the stronger they sound. Those powerful a cappella harmonies on the opener, “Don’t Go Down There,” have vestiges of a long-ago black church. Edlred’s bottleneck guitar notes on the finale, “61 and 49,” perfectly bookend the disc. With former Blasters John Bazz on Fender bass and Jerry Angel on drums behind singer/guitarist Eldred, we can count on roots rock with authority here.
The CD’s vibes shift like quicksilver. “She’s a Rocker” — which could almost be a sequel to Billy Lee Riley and His Little Green Men’s “Flying Saucers Rock and Roll” on Sun — segues into “Ruby’s Blues,” a moody guitar instrumental with vestiges of the late Roy Buchanan. A second slow instrumental, “Miss Gayle’s Chicken House,” has a guest spot by none other than Elvis’s original guitarist at Sun, Scotty Moore. As for post-adolescent semi-whimsy, “Mr. Newman” could come from NRBQ, but all the compositions here are Eldred’s.
Meanwhile, the trio’s 20-song Presley tribute “Elvis Unleaded” (also on Rip Cat) is a realistic take on the King’s catalog, reaching from his early Little Richard covers (“Rip It Up,” “Long Tall Sally”) to his later fluff (“Girls, Girls, Girls,” “Bossa Nova Baby”). Among the ten songs penned by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, “Treat Me Nice” (“If you really want my loving, treat me nice.”) comes two tracks away from their “Love Me” (“Treat me like a fool, treat me mean and cruel, but love me.”). Here, “Love Me” gets Elvis’s 1956 dirge treatment, which enabled him to milk every drop of emotion from the lyric way more than 1954’s shuffle-beat renditions by R&B’s Willy & Ruth, country’s Jimmie Rodgers Snow and pop’s Georgia Gibbs. If reworking the song to a dirge had been Elvis’s idea, it’s a sign of his artistic genius.
As for the trio’s “One Night of Sin,” we’re hearing Smiley Lewis’s original 1956 lyrics on Imperial, not RCA’s sanitized “One Night” that hit #4 for Elvis in ’58. Sure, EP did a studio take with Smiley’s lyrics too, but that one took years to be released to the general public.
The tribute’s arrangements stick fairly close to Elvis’s rather than break new ground like Ry Cooder’s “Little Sister” did. If a single title captures the disc’s mood, it’s “Rip It Up.”