BMG CD review
From the Grammy award winning 'How Great Thou Art' to the final song, the all-important 'Peace In The Valley' this new CD is 63 minutes of glorious Gospel music as only Elvis could sing.
The problem with Elvis Gospel compiles is that they always have to straddle 3 decades of music and so usually sound very uneven in both context and sound.
However with a lovely balanced sound and a clever choice of tracks 'Ultimate Gospel' is close to perfect.
With Elvis' 'Christmas Peace' recent release, this CD might be viewed as a strange repeat. However, only 6 of the tracks are featured on both CDs and there is a very different thematic focus to each.
Of course, with just 24 tracks some personal favourites are bound to be omitted, and for me it is the outstanding 'Stand By Me' but this is just a minor quibble. I was a little wary purchasing these same tracks for the umpteenth time however with the sensational new audio quality, due to the great work by Vic Anesini & Andreas Meyer, Elvis Gospel has never sounded as good.
This is one of the rare BMG CDs (like 'Elvis 30#1s' and '2nd To None') restored from the original Master tapes.
While Elvis' 1966 recordings show the biggest improvement in sound, all the tracks have a lovely rich and warm feel to them which suits the delicious gospel harmonies. Listen closely to the awesome power and the blend of voices on 'Amazing Grace'.
The track order is also an inspiration in itself. For instance, the powerful 'Reach Out To Jesus' is followed by 'Who Am I?' (the last song of the 'Suspicious Minds' sessions) and then by 1973's 'Help Me'. This clever sequencing emphasises Elvis' own feelings about religion, his questioning about his purpose in life, as well as his own soul-searching.
(With Gospel harmonies in mind I noted that 'Help Me' is mixed similarly to the 'Amazing Grace' version, deliciously emphasising the harmonies between Elvis and the backing vocalists. The 'Promised Land' 2000 CD version is very different.)
The 1966 'How Great Thou Art' songs are the most noticeable for improved audio. The extra echo has been removed and the sound is perfect and clean, with a lovely warm vinyl feel. A standout is the fabulous 'Where Could I Go But To The Lord' which has never sounded better. Recorded at 3am in the morning the cool blues, accompanied by Elvis' finger clicks, is impassioned and heartfelt. Listening on headphones you can soak up every passionate Nashville Studio B moment.
Similarly, it's impossible not to be touched by the power of 1967's 'You'll Never Walk Alone' with Elvis playing piano and producing a, pretty-well spontaneous, one-take wonder. Elvis' love of Gospel Quartets is reflected with songs from all eras and they have never fitted so well.
'Lead Me, Guide Me' is one of Elvis' most touching performances from 1971 and when he sings, "I am lost if you take your hand from me" he seems so totally sincere it is truly moving. Little did we know how lost he would be by the end of 1971.
Again this version has a lovely rich mix and has never sounded better. As a temptation to collectors I would have loved to seen the CD feature the un-dubbed version of 'Miracle Of The Rosary' since Felton's orchestral overdubs always seemed a little excessive on this potentially fragile song. It would also have improved the flow into the sincere 'Take My Hand, Precious Lord' that follows, but I do realise that I am being very picky here!
The cover design is a delight featuring a few pertinent photos, the 'Comeback Special' shot is sensational, as well as listing all of Elvis' Grammy Awards and Nominations.
There are also some, previously unpublished, delightful words from his Mother Gladys including, "When Elvis was just a little fellow, he would slide off my lap, run down the aisle, and scramble up to the platform of the church. He would stand looking up at the choir and try to sing with them."
NOTE: 'Ultimate Gospel' was re-released in 2007. This was accompanied by the promotional blurb "Revised with 2 significant tracks added and artwork not previously included."
The songs 'In My Father's House' and 'An Evening Prayer' were indeed added but more peculiarly the track 'Miracle Of The Rosary' was removed! While of course the track is a "Catholic" song, it does demonstrate that Elvis liked it enough to record it and that Elvis showed no bias.
(With thanks to Jerry for the update)
Verdict - In the past I have often turned to the double CD 'Amazing Grace' for inspiration however 'Ultimate Gospel' has already become my firm favourite since it is a perfect hour that inspires contemplation, peace and a moving look into Elvis' soul. If you feel like a perfect slice of Elvis Gospel, do check it out you won't regret it - Elvis Gospel has never sounded as good.
Original Tracklisting: How Great Thou Art. So High. Amazing Grace. Crying In The Chapel. You'll Never Walk Alone. Swing Down Sweet Chariot. Milky White Way. His Hand In Mine. I Believe In The Man In The Sky. Where Could I Go But To The Lord. If The Lord Wasn't Walking By My Side. Run On. He Touched Me. Bosom Of Abraham. Lead Me, Guide Me. Joshua Fit The Battle. If We Never Meet Again. I, John. Reach Out To Jesus. Who Am I? Help Me. Miracle Of The Rosary. Take My Hand, Precious Lord. Peace In The Valley.
Reviewed by Piers Beagley
Copyright EIN - 2004
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