Jeff Monk LP Reviews October 2016

Elvis Presley

Way Down In The Jungle Room (RCA/Legacy)

This two disc compilation is comprised of a mix of tracks – original album versions and outtakes-culled from The King Of Rock’n’Roll’s 1976 outing “From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee” and the studio side of the final album recorded while he was alive, 1977’s “Moody Blue”. The obvious question fans will have is “Do I need to buy this?” and from this critics’ perspective the answer would be definitely be positive, with some warnings attached. These songs were recorded at the Memphis lair known as “Graceland” where The King was holing up on such a regular basis during these years (he died in 1977) that he thought it wise to bring the late night shenanigans, rampant prescription drug use and obsequious hangers’ on under one comfortable roof in his actual home.

The main floor den was labeled “The Jungle Room” due to its awkward use of faux fur cushions and rugs, period-cool wood paneling and endangered animal knick-knacks littering the room. The band at this time was basically The Kings’ stage band and included capable players like Ronnie Tutt, James Burton, Jerry Scheff, Tony Brown, David Briggs, Chip Young and John Wilkinson. Presley was, at this stage of his career, using his big tenor and warbled vibrato to utmost effect. This was his comfort zone and the songs he chose to sing were the kind of numbers that benefitted from this brand of heroic delivery. Tracks like “He’ll Have To Go”, “Hurt” and “She Thinks I Still Care” will have you reaching for that special moments Bic lighter to raise high and wave toward the disc player. Eventually the bold crescendo of these songs grows tiring, and it seems like Presley is a bit too comfortable in this exaggerated wheelhouse. Tracks like the disco-challenged “Moody Blue”, the country soul gem “Way Down” and the smooth “Solitaire” reconciles the vibe in a way that made Presley and his band unique.

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The outtakes disc offers different versions of the songs on the first disc with scattered inclusions of Elvis’ TCB crew overheard off microphone laughing at their leaders’ inane jokes and weird commentaries about shooting both dogs and telephones that ruin recording takes.

The 24 page booklet puts some historical context into the mix and details session dates, songwriters and track participants well enough to add some meat to the bone as it were. Shortly after these recordings Presley’s health took it’s final nosedive and he fell from the throne to the floor. Too bad, as the best tracks here reveal an artist that had some kind of grasp of what he could sing well and not be completely embarrassed by the results.

(16 tracks CD1/17 tracks CD2)

Jeff Monk

Long serving music writer and hermit from the frozen center of Canada JM spends his days creating a pleasant environment for world class ballet dancers while a looping soundtrack of loud rock and roll music boils continuously in his head. This is something that can't be fixed. At your service. Now buy him a cigar and exit.

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