Elvis by the Presleys

by: Elvis Presley

The double-disc set Elvis by the Presleys is part of a May 2005 multimedia juggernaut of the same name, containing a two-hour documentary broadcast on CBS that month, a four-hour expanded version of the film released on DVD a few weeks later, and a 250-page book published that month, as well. The intent behind the project is to show Elvis as his family saw him in their private moments -- a concept that's better suited to print and video, where unpublished photos and unseen home movies can offer glimpses at a private life, than on CD, where familiar recordings are reissued yet again in a new sequencing that purportedly recontextualizes the songs everyone knows by heart. Here, the 24 tracks on disc one each function as a tie-in to "the titles of the documentary segments they underscore, function(ing) on their own as a deeply affecting audio commentary on Elvis Presley's public and private life." That's according to the liner notes. If you didn't have the notes to guide you, the disc would seem like a random collection of hits, highlights, and oddities, ranging from the timeless Sun side "Trying to Get to You" to the already dated JXL remix of "A Little Less Conversation." In between, there's plenty of good music -- some of it, like "Suspicious Minds" and "Heartbreak Hotel," is reissued on nearly every Elvis comp, but there are a couple of good curveballs here, like "Indescribably Blue" and "Steamroller Blues." On the whole, though, Elvis by the Presleys doesn't offer anything an Elvis fan doesn't already have, nor does it provide an original, behind-the-scenes glimpse at the icon as it claims to do. And that may be why there was a bonus disc of rarities added to this set. Not that the eight-track second disc has nothing but unreleased recordings -- the early, pre-Sun demo "It Wouldn't Be the Same Without You," alternate takes of "Too Much Monkey Business" from 1968, and a live "Blue Christmas" from 1977 all have been issued before -- but five are newly released. There are two early takes, sequenced together, of "Jailhouse Rock" from 1957, alternate takes on 1961's "Anything That's Part of You" and 1962's "You'll Be Gone," plus solo "private recordings" of "Baby What You Want Me to Do" and "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." While this is interesting stuff, it's collector bait, not really music that most listeners would play more than once. However, the pair of "private recordings" are good and loose, and come closer to the concept of this project than anything on the first disc. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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