Saturday, June 30, 2012

Classics And Covers: Elvis Heart And Soul Is A Worthwhile Compilation!

The Good: Some wonderful releases, Decent mix for the album's theme
The Bad: Moments of vocal limitation, Nothing truly new to Elvis fans
The Basics: Elvis Presley's established and obscure love and loss songs come together on an adequate compilation disc that's worth picking up!

Just when I think I will not be surprised again for some time, I find myself surprised, usually unpleasantly. It was an unusual circumstance, then, when I found an Elvis Presley c.d. after a month of Elvis overload that not only could I stand, but I actually enjoyed! Such was the case, though, with Elvis Presley's Heart And Soul, a compilation album of some of Presley's best-known, most romantic songs. In addition to the standards, though, there were some true surprises; covers I had never heard of Presley performing that he pulls off admirably, a shock for all who listen to the album!

With twenty-two tracks clocking in at sixty-five minutes, twenty-one seconds, Heart & Soul represents a strong presentation of classic Presley tracks in their original forms, along with lesser known covers of amazing songs. After weeks of listening to the works of Presley from the 1950s, I was impressed to hear later works and covers which I had never heard the King perform, like "Always On My Mind," "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Yes, in 1970, Elvis Presley recorded a cover of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and it is quite good!

Over the course of the twenty-two tracks, Presley proves himself a master crooner, if not a gifted songwriter or guitar player. As noted since my earliest reviews of Elvis' works: Presley is far more a performer than an artist. He only co-wrote "Love Me Tender" on this album and there is some question as to whether or not that credit is deserved. A more creative illustration of control over the music comes from Elvis producing or co-producing every track on this album and that is telling of his abilities and interest. This is a well-produced album and while some of the songs might fall down for lyrics or even musical diversity, it comes together nicely as a theme album - a must for a compilation like this - in that the production elements balance nicely with Presley's voice.

For the most part, this is a simple compilation album of tracks previously released, with few genuine surprises. All that separates "Love Me Tender," which opens the album, from other versions of the same song is that on this disc, it is now in stereo. "I've Lost You" also appears virtually identical to other versions of it that I've heard. The bulk of the tracks, then, are the same studio tracks trotted out for decades when creating Elvis Presley compilations. For a change of pace, a track-by-track listing/evaluation follows:

1. "Love Me Tender" - Perhaps the quintessential Elvis Presley love ballad,
2. "Young And Beautiful" - A simple track wherein Elvis repeatedly croons the title to a fair maiden,
3. "Love Me" - A strangely unmemorable song wherein Elvis begs for love,
4. "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You" - A tune with a bit more of a tempo to it to break up the monotony of the early Elvis ballads,
5. "Don't" - A quiet, pleading track wherein Elvis delves into the lower vocal ranges and is able to make anyone without a stone heart swoon,
6. "As Long As I Have You" - Another quiet and surprisingly sad Presley track that illustrates why there can be too much of Elvis crooning,
7. "Loving You" - Ditto from the previous track,
8. "Fame And Fortune" - The last in a streak of low points on this album, this is one of the more cliche tracks Presley sings as it delves into all that the narrator would give up for the love of his life,
9. "The Girl Of My Best Friend" - A wonderfully poppy, upbeat lament wherein the singer notes that the one who got away - who is not involved with his best friend - is unattainable, lest he lose both. Surprisingly clever and fun, despite the underwhelming sadness of it,
10. "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" - Perhaps an example of the "soul" aspect of Heart & Soul, this questioning song does little other than ask about what it is like to live without love,
11. "Can't Help Falling In Love" - As one raised on the UB40 cover of this song, I dreaded the first time I would hear Elvis perform it, but here it is melodic and surprisingly good. Proof Presley can sing,
12. "She's Not You" - Somewhere between tongue-in-cheek and the harshest of truths is this track wherein the singer compares the one he's with to the one he loves. They just don't write songs like this anymore,
13. "Anything That's Part Of You,"
14. "Love Letters" - I've listened to this album thirteen times now - literally! - and I can't say a word about these two tracks. By the time they come up in the album, they are so nondescript that one is unable to recall either melody, theme, vocal performance or even a single lyric from them! One wonders why "Burning Love" wasn't tossed on this album instead of one of these two tracks,
15. "It's Now Or Never" - Returns the album to distinction with a track that is recognizable, sensible and has a decent tune. Elvis makes a musical ultimatum and he actually makes it sound like it could be related to actual love,
16. "It Hurts Me" - Another strangely sad song that focuses on the breaking of the heart as opposed to the celebration of love that much of the rest of the album embodies,
17. "I Just Can't Help Believin'" - One of the longer tracks on the album, Presley's live-sounding rock ballad reminds explores the faith of love and Presley has a decent vocal range on this track,
18. "Always On My Mind" - I didn't check out the track listing before my first listen to this album and this was the first pleasant surprise for me. Presley covers the classic song and he gives it a flavor born of Southern charm, distinctly different from - for example - the Pet Shop Boys' cover of the same,
19. "Suspicious Minds" - Classic late Elvis, this has a full-bodied sound that presents Elvis as the leader of a gospel choir and he rocks with singing about the traps people in relationships fall into when there is a hint of jealousy,
20. "I've Lost You" - As the title suggests, yet another ballad about living without love, rather than expressing feelings of love. This one has the same late-Elvis bigger production value sound to it and it works for a track that is more acknowledging loss than exploring the desolation of it,
21. "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me" - Where does this song come from? Who else has covered it? Truth be told, I've no clue, but having heard this version, I think Elvis owns the song when sung by a male perspective. Desperate and somewhat haunted, Presley's vocals are both bold and needy, making this one of the standout tracks on the album,
and 22. "Bridge Over Troubled Water" - An admirable cover of a genius song by Simon and Garfunkel. Presley does not attempt to recreate the original, rather here he reinterprets it with vocals that connote strength and character, eliminating subtlety in exchange for an air of support.

Throughout the course of the album, the vocals and instrumentals evolve, which makes sense given the timeframe of Presley's career. Heart & Soul journeys from one whispery ballad to another only to break the mold with more straightforward, bold vocals that come to the point of almost blaring at the listener. Similarly, the instrumentals start with stark guitars or pianos and evolve into full orchestral works by the final tracks.

Thematically, the album works remarkably well and Heart & Soul might be ideal for non-Elvis fans who want some of his best works without too many flat-out duds. Between the well-known, classic Elvis tracks like "Love Me Tender" and "Can't Help Falling In Love," and the obscure covers like "Always On My Mind" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water," there is much to recommend this work.

The best track might well be the soulful "Bridge Over Troubled Water," the low point is the unmemorable "Anything That's Part Of You."

For other works by Elvis Presley, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Elvis Presley
Loving You
Elvis’ Golden Records
Elvis’ Christmas Album
King Creole
For LP Fans Only
A Date With Elvis
50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong: Elvis’ Gold Records Volume 2
Today, Tomorrow, And Forever
30 #1 Hits


For other music albums, be sure to check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the music I have reviewed!

© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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