Elvis Presley, “Elvis at Stax: Deluxe Edition.” In 1973, Elvis Presley needed to do some recording. Home in Memphis, Presley rented a studio that was about a 10-minute drive from Graceland -- the legendary Stax Records studio.
Doing a four-day session in July that bumped Isaac Hayes out of the studio and then a week in December, the Stax tracks were Presley’s final extensive studio recordings. The 28 songs completed in those sessions were spread across three albums, the last of which wasn’t released until 1975.
With “Elvis at Stax: Deluxe Edition,” a three- CD set, those songs are presented together, coherently, along with 27 outtakes. All of the latter have been released previously over the past 15 years, but again not together.
There are few smash hits on the set. Presley had peaked as a singles artist by then.
But the recordings find him at his final peak, working his way through a combination of rhythm and blues, country, gospel and rock ‘n’ roll, accompanied primarily by key members of his touring band, including guitarist James Burton.
Stax musicians, including Donald “Duck” Dunn and Al Jackson from Booker T and the MGs, played only one night in July -- a short session marred by technical difficulties. So their soul sounds don’t pervade the record. But there was something about the Stax studio and a freed-up Elvis that brought some of the Stax feel and that of Hi Records, the home of Al Green, to the songs.
To be sure, Elvis didn’t put everything in every song, e.g. Leiber and Stoller’s trivial “Three Corn Patches.” But when he put himself to it, he owned songs like “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues,” “Just a Little Bit,” “Raised on Rock” and Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land” that kicks '50s rock forward two decades.
“Elvis at Stax” isn’t an indispensable set. Presley stalwarts already have all of this material, and neophytes are better off picking up other, more career-spanning packages. But it is a valuable look at Presley’s last major studio sojourn that confirms that, at least until the last couple of years of his life, he remained the greatest rock singer ever. Grade: B