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Elvis' brand new album 'Way Down In The Jungle Room' has been receiving, what seems to be unanimous critical acclaim from every form of publication along with many stores
selling out of their stock. These sales saw the album doing very well in the UK charts giving Elvis yet another top 20 album and with the steady demand, could soon take Elvis back
to the top 10.
However, this looks all but impossible now due to "Serious Distribution Problems" which in just one week has seen 'Way Down In The Jungle Room' drop from #16 to #67 on the
UK Top 100 Album Chart (19.08.2016).
The double album also drops from #9 to #27 on the Physical Album Chart and drops from #12 to #39 on the Sales Chart'.
WAY DOWN IN THE JUNGLE ROOM continues to see rave reviews as shown below through the popular youth music site, Pitchfork.
Tracked at Graceland in 1976, the recordings on this double-disc compilation show that Elvis never stopped believing in the power of music, that he never stopped searching for the
right song to sing.
Elvis Presley died on August 16, 1977, about a month after he released Moody Blue. Like so many Elvis records before it, Moody Blue wasn’t assembled with care: it indiscriminately
blended new studio sides with live tracks, some dating as far back as 1974. Early in Presley’s career, his manager Colonel Tom Parker—the huckster who took Presley under his
wing in ’56—realized there wasn't much of a margin in art. He chose to industrialize the making of Elvis’ music. Parker minimized studio time but maximized releases, hustling Presley
into the studio for marathon sessions where he’d record enough material for upwards of three albums.
He instituted this practice not long after Elvis left the Army in 1960 and never abandoned it. Even the landmark From Elvis in Memphis, the 1969 record where Elvis reconnected
with his muse, skimmed the surface of the Chips Moman-produced sessions at American Sound Studio. The rest of the recordings arrived months later as Back in Memphis, the
studio portion of the double-LP From Memphis to Vegas/From Vegas to Memphis—a title so bewildering, it seems designed to confuse audiences. That word salad signals the utter
indifference the Presley camp had toward presentation: the LPs were product, pure and simple.
Parker and RCA spent so little time considering the construction of these releases; their very shoddiness suggested Elvis himself didn’t care much for making music. That isn’t true.
After he reasserted control of the songs he sang in 1968—not to mention how the music sounded—Presley never quite let go of the artistic reins, even if he did make concessions
to both the marketplace and Parker’s business demands.
Presley’s artistry became obscured because his adoring fans would still snatch up tickets to live performances in Vegas and pick up LPs, never caring deeply about the content
within. Decades of posthumous releases haven’t necessarily been kind to Presley, either. The sheer number of compilations have supported the notion that Elvis was merely a
commodity to be sold. In the past few years, RCA/Legacy reconfigured Presley’s recordings according to session order, creating compilations that highlighted these concentrated
bursts of energy. Way Down in the Jungle Room—a double disc set divided into a disc of master recordings and one of working renditions—is presumably the last of these. It
focuses on the music Presley made primarily in February and October of 1976 at Graceland and doled out on 1976’s From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee, and
Moody Blue. “Way Down,” a funky but forgotten rocker, was the biggest hit from these sessions, peaking at 18. “Moody Blue,” a single that turned into a perennial on oldies radio,
topped out only at 31.
The Jungle Room was the name given to the den adjacent to the kitchen in Graceland, Presley’s fabled Memphis home. The space earned its name due to its tacky Zebra-striped
decor, kitsch that distracted from the fact that Elvis turned this room into a home recording studio early in 1976. At that time, Presley wanted to stick around Memphis due to health
issues and a creeping domesticity. But by the mid-’70s, both American Sound Studio and Stax—where Presley recorded landmark sessions in the late ’60s and early ’70s,
respectively—had shuttered, so he decided to dedicate a room in his mansion to music. Home studios were an indulgence befitting a superstar, but it also was cost effective,
especially for a singer whose very career hinged on a trio of guys capturing lightning in a bottle at the tail end of a session.
Nothing on Way Down in the Jungle Room approaches the kineticism of Elvis’ first single, 1954’s “That’s Alright Mama,” the late-night throwaway that altered the course of American
culture. But that’s a high bar to clear. Rather, the looseness on Way Down in the Jungle Room reveals just how much Presley learned from Sam Phillips, a producer who prized
surprise over polish. Certainly, the master takes on Way Down in the Jungle Room are plenty slick, but their essence lies in the jams heard on the second disc—a collection where
Elvis cracks wise with a group of musicians who would soon become his rhythm section, the TCB Band (“Taking Care of Business”), along with invited guests. He smirks, “You guys
don’t deserve me on the very first part” on “Bitter They Are, Harder They Fall;” he commands, “Bring out the booze... grandma” just before launching into “Never Again.” It’s all with
the intention of pushing his band toward renditions he can hear in his head.
These aren’t necessarily inventive—there’s not much that can be done to refresh the old Irish weeper “Danny Boy”—but sometimes they are. Take “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” a
Fred Rose tune popularized by Roy Acuff and Hank Williams but revived in a spare, sad version by Willie Nelson in 1975. Elvis trades melancholy for a slow-burning funk, not a
million miles away from his deep soul rendition of “She Thinks I Still Care,” or how he turned Johnny Ace’s “Pledging My Love” into a roadhouse lament. These aren’t straight covers;
these are interpretations, the work of an intuitive, intelligent singer who knows how to bend a lyric to serve his style. They’re also the gateway to the rest of Way Down in the Jungle
Room, showing that even at its corniest moments—and this music is often silly and overblown because, Dean Martin fan that he was, Elvis never could resist heightened emotions—
Presley understood the mechanics of a song and how to heighten a performance for maximum effect.
At times he nodded toward mainstream trends. “Way Down” soars like a jetliner; “Moody Blue” co-opts every soft, hazy sound of AM pop in the mid-’70s. But the striking thing about
Way Down in the Jungle Room is how it stays true to all the music Presley claimed as his own in ’68. Rockabilly isn’t heard much here—“For the Heart” has some swing, but nothing
is breathless or reckless—still, there’s a clear, clean connection to the country, soul, and pop he blended in his ’68 comeback, just after he shook off the shackles of the
soundtracks Parker imposed upon him. Perhaps there’s not an expansion of the sound, but there’s unquestionably a deepening of emotion, the sense that he’s a singer settling into
his own bones. This maturity, this casual authority, is commanding. His performances often transcend the material, especially when schmaltz is infused with emotion: Neil Sedaka's
“Solitaire” is given an operatic arrangement where Presley treats its broad lines like revelations.
Like Frank Sinatra, Elvis threw himself into his music. Whatever he had, whether it was spruced up soul or manicured mellowness, Elvis invests himself into the song he’s singing.
That passion is what distinguishes Way Down in the Jungle Room from the LPs culled from the same sessions. Here, in this double disc set, it’s apparent Elvis never stopped
believing in the power and redemption of music, that he never stopped searching for the right song to sing.
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|WAY DOWN WITH THE DISTRIBUTION
August 19, 2016 - EER's Brian Quinn / Pitchfork / Elvis Express Radio