Album Review: “Elvis at Stax” is pure gold


I’ve always mentally split Elvis’s career in 3 sections: The rocking 50’s, the movie years and the Vegas years, when he turned into a fat parody of himself. I love his 50’s output with passion, but I never cared for the movie years. I do love the ’68 Comeback Special that put an end to that era, and I guess I never really paid attention to the gap between that lean performance and the Las Vegas residency.

When I saw the new Elvis at Stax release on iTunes today, I was intrigued. The legendary Stax Records released soul classics in the 60’s and 70’s, from acts like Sam & Dave, Booket T and the MG’s (the Stax house band) and Otis Redding, and was Memphis’s answer to Detroit’s Motown.

As it turned out, Elvis only used the studio because it was close to Graceland, and played with his own band over 3 days in 1973. Trying to capitalize on the success of the broadcast of Aloha from Hawaï the year before, Elvis recorded enough material for 3 albums that mixed soul, funk, country and gospel, some of it that’s a lot closer to something like Shaft than I would have expected from Elvis. While the material was issued in the 70’s in a lackluster way (and the outtakes on various compilations over the years), this is the first time the recording sessions have been released together. I started sampling the tracks on iTunes, and quickly hit the Buy button. The material is just fantastic!

Opening track I Got a Feelin’ in My Body is funky and soulful, and sets the tone nicely for the rest of the 55 track release. (A 17 track compilation is also available) Studio banter is heard between the tracks, giving the set a fly on the wall feel. Multiple takes are available for some songs, which gives an insight into the development of these tracks.

Throughout the set, Elvis sings with passion and power (in between takes he even goes into opera at one point!), and the whole band seems to be having a lot of fun. All the material was new to me, and it’s a fantastic feeling to discover new classics from the King. This album is also a sad reminder of how quickly he declined until his death 4 years later.

If you like soul music and/or Elvis, I heartily recommend this release. Good music from one of the best voices of the last century. My only criticism would be that the release is a little front loaded and runs out of steam towards the end, so if you’re on the fence, the single disc edition is probably a safer bet.

***** out of 5

Jean-Frederic Vachon
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