From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee, originally released in May 1976, was drawn from one of Elvis Presley’s last recording sessions. He’d become so disinterested in recording that RCA brought the studio to him, setting up equipment in a den at Elvis’ home, Graceland (a room later renamed the “Jungle Room,” due to its Tiki-style furniture). From February 2 to 8, 1976, Elvis recorded 12 songs, 10 of which ended up on this album.
The new Follow That Dream (FTD) reissue of the album is a two CD set, presenting a wealth of alternate takes, some of which have appeared on collections like Platinum: A Life in Music or FTD’s The Jungle Room Sessions. But about half are previously unreleased, and new Elvis material is always welcome.
The album opens with Elvis in full cry on the mighty “Hurt,” which was invariably a showstopper when he performed it live. The track was released as a single in March ’76, with the rollicking country & western flavored “For the Heart” on the B-side (also featured on the album). These songs are the album’s highlights. Elvis’ rendition of “Danny Boy” is another strong track, and it’s poignant hearing “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” knowing that it was the last song Elvis ever performed (after hitting a few balls in the racquetball court he’d built at Graceland, Elvis accompanied himself on piano as he sang the song for his friends in the early morning hours of August 16, 1977). But the rest of the material (which includes Neil Sedaka’s “Solitaire,” Lonnie Donegan’s “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,” Larry Gatlin’s “Bitter They Are, Harder They Fall,” and Roger Whitaker’s “The Last Farewell”) is decidedly schmaltzy, with Elvis at times sounding less than engaged with the material.
Here’s where the set’s second CD proves to be a real eye-opener. Stripped of the saccharine string and horn arrangements (provided by Bergen White), you’re better able to focus on Elvis, and his performances are surprisingly strong. Ironically, instead of heightening the emotion, the arrangements more often end up smothering it; just compare Elvis’ rendition of “Solitaire” with and without the additional instrumental backing; the unadorned number is far more heartfelt and moving. The same is true of the rest of the rest of the album, and a side-by-side comparison with individual tracks reveals that Elvis was a far stronger singer in his later years than he’s generally been given credit for. If he’d been more engaged in the process, he could possibly have made another album as strong as From Elvis In Memphis. But he could only motivate himself to return to the studio one more time, when another home session was set up at Graceland October 29-30, 1976.
From Elvis Presley Boulevard reached #41 on the pop charts (“Hurt” had made it to #28). It performed better on the country charts (the album went to #1, “Hurt” reached #6), but it’s generally been considered one of Elvis’ lesser albums. So it’s especially nice to be able to reevaluate the work by getting the chance to hear how the album could have turned out.
A good addition to any Elvis fan's collection.