Elvis Presley’s “Elvis Country (I’m 10,000 Years Old)” Reviewed
On to album # 41!
This was a real rarity for Elvis, he never recorded to order. Presley went into the studio, recorded for a week or so, and released the songs how he saw fit. In the age of the album as concept, Presley didn’t go for concept albums. This randomness made it difficult to assess his albums, the tracks would differ, sometimes he would get lucky over the course of an album, sometimes less so, and in 2015 you might be better assessing the 70s as all these songs, always saved by the vocals, with no other context.
Well, this ain’t that. Here halfway through the recording session in Nashville June 1970 (we got three quarters of That’s The Way It Is from the same four days), producer Felton Jarvis and Presley realized that with a push they might have a country album on their hands. So they pushed. According to Wikipedia the album included “bluegrass, honky tonk, Western swing, rockabilly, countrypolitan, and even the then-nascent “outlaw” movement”. Though it sounded like Elvis. With backup Nashville cats behind him (along with one James Burton) Elvis recorded Reverend Howard Hunter’s spiritual “I Was Born 10,000 Years Ago”, a pretty good idea in theory, but then he chopped it up and used sections as a segue from one track to another, a concept bewildering in its badness. It makes no sense to keep interrupting the album -a pretty good album as far as it goes.
Here was Robert Christgau’s review at the time: “A disastrous conceit, in which snippets of a “theme” song segue between tracks, makes it very hard to tell what happens to the Big Concept–Elvis Sings Ernest Tubb, Bill Monroe, Bob Wills, Anne Murray, etc. Most of his recordings sound suspiciously casual anyway, like preconcert runthroughs, and these segues add a rushed medley feel. “The Fool” and “It’s Your Baby, You Rock It” work, and “Whole Lot-ta Shakin'” works out. But Tubb’s “Tomorrow Never Comes” is a horn-fed monstrosity. And somehow I don’t think Elvis had his heart in “Snowbird.”
Certainly, the one take last minute add to the concept “Whole Lotta Shakin'” was casual, but it still rocked out more than Elvis had since 68, and if the countrypolitan Patsy Cline “Faded Love” was also casual, he was casual to take it back down to its roots. Those two songs alone would make Elvis Country worth your while. But you know Elvis is gonna get Willie Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away”, which he sings as well as he can, and if the back up players are a little understated, they aren’t comatose.
There are a handful of country classics here, songs any Elvis fan would be happy to hear. Dallas Frazier’s “There Goes My Everything” is so solemn it sounds like she’s died -it features the Christian Group the Imperials, and for good reason. The great Hank Cochran’s “Make The World Go Away” is given its due to close out the album, and while big ballad “Snowbird” is a misplaced first song, it would have been alright elsewhere.
No, this ain’t “Suspicious Minds”, yes the band are a little too easy going and some of the songs could’ve been judged otherwise. But this was not Elvis watching his talents dwindle. He was 35 years old when he recorded these songs and Presley’s Sax sessions were still three years into the future.
Presley is so far in the past now, his death feels inevitable. But he was a young man when he died and listening to this recording emphasizes how little over his life was when he died. We lost so much.