Presley’s New Box, A Female Delbert & a Stirring New Voice

ElvisSony/RCA/Legacy has released “Elvis: That’s The Way It Is (Deluxe Edition), in a mammoth 10-disc box which features the original album, six complete shows from Las Vegas, an 80-page book and–best of all–a rehearsal CD where Presley is in rare form, joking and leading the band on anything and everything.

It’s 1969. Elvis is finally out from under those suffocating movie contracts and it is decided for him that Las Vegas is where he will return to live performance at the International Hotel. Colonel Parker (who probably made the venue decision only to offset his gambling losses there) books a strangling 57 shows in one month. Elvis, ever one to please the carny who lucked out and got him famous (loyalty would prove to be his downfall), gave it his all. Just like he gave his all even with all those bad movie songs.

The abject fascination, though, for the lifelong Elvis fanatic, including myself, is that here, for the first time, every subtle nuance, every between-song joke, every clue to what he was feeling at the time, is all presented in the context of these concerts and rehearsal. To hear them one after another is a fascinating excursion into the mind of a man who was yearning to be back on a stage again, comedic about his past, well-aware of his falling King of Rock’n’Roll stature, and hell-bent to restore it.

The DVDs are the original 1970 movie and an expanded 2001 version. Some of the songs are surprises, some he jokes about, most he throws himself into with passion. Even the band introductions are funny. (Also available is a two-CD set with the original live album, the four hits from that album in their radio versions, five out-takes and one show.)

Remixed, re-mastered, with an obvious loving touch, you wanna know how to use this box? I’ll tell ya:  don’t, under any circumstances, look at the set list in advance. Let the shock-of-recognition wash over you to enjoy the differences between the shows. Sure, he tells the same jokes but not in the same way, and once you settle into a grooooove, the subtle differences will make themselves known and the enjoyment factor is multiplied. (Spoiler Alert: after hearing all eight CDs, you will wind up loving and humming his cover of the BJ Thomas hit “I Just Can’t Help Believin'” constantly. I’m humming it now as I type.)

Etta Britt Dave & Sugar cracked the country charts 16 times in the late ’70s/early ’80s but Etta Britt wasn’t satisfied. She considered it her day job. When a bassist friend–now in her band–told her she was no country singer, he was right. She’s a bluesy red-hot…a female Delbert McClinton, in fact. On her self-released “Etta Does Delbert” CD, she proves it all night with 12 Delbert doozies complete with most of Delbert’s band plus the man himself. It took only seven hours to record and I think I’ve even listened to it for longer than that. I can’t stop. It’s like an “Old Weakness Comin’ On Strong,” as the song says. Those who know Mr. McClinton’s legend would do themselves a favor getting this one. I gotta go spin it again…and then yet again in late November when deadlines force me to make up my 2014 Top 10.

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“Son Of An American Dream” by Bill Curreri (self-released) is a rockin’ little record I want my DJ to play. Here’s a New Yorker who was there in 1960s Greenwich Village, witnessed first-hand the folk and folk-rock explosion, was offered a major label deal in his twenties, but turned it down to raise a family and successfully rise through the advertising ranks with music always on the back-burner.

Until now.

All original, this singer/songwriter positively bristles with a well-worn rock’n’roll propulsion that still leaves room for his idiosyncratic voice and wise lyrics gained from a lifetime of astute observation. If Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers made this exact album, it would be hailed coast to coast. If The Eagles made this exact album, it would also be hailed. Vocally, we’re talkin’ maybe early Dave Edmunds or my man Moon Martin (remember him?). The rhythm section cracks with that satisfying kick (all of us who have been in bands can dig where he’s coming from), the lead guitar soars and the singer spills his guts. What makes it all cool is that his observations are totally universal, his experiences mirroring his generation. I totally get this guy. He’s me. He’s you. Especially if you’re a Baby Boomer. Intelligent personal lyrics sung with creamy-sweet harmony (some of the time) yet accentuated with a kick-ass band is always going win me over.

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About Mike Greenblatt

A longtime music journalist, Mike Greenblatt is a contributing editor with Goldmine magazine.

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