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November 04, 2016  - The Mail  /  Elvis Express Radio
This week I take a listen to some newly reissued Elvis material from RCA/Legacy

— Elvis Presley —
“The Wonder of You”

Most readers of my column know I’m not a big fan of “necro-duets,” where an artist dubs vocals along with some other big-name artists long since dead. I think the reason I dislike
them so much is because they always sound forced and artificial. It also seems like little more than an ego exercise as if to say — “Hey — I’m good enough to perform a duet with
this famous dead guy!”

A lot of time that’s just not the case.

However, I’m definitely open to taking older art and “recycling” it, taking pieces of older stuff and sampling it into something new. That’s like cut-and-paste art and is the basis for
some classic hip hop albums.

Legacy has done some outstanding reissues featuring Elvis, including taking some chances with the King.

This “new” Elvis Presley album includes the King singing lovely with his backing band at the time with newer overdubs by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. This is the second time
this has been done, telling me people are digging it.

I found myself really liking the first album, “If I Can Dream,” simply for the fact they cherrypicked some of El’s best vocal performances and added simple, organic and extremely
tasteful snippets of the Royal Philharmonic. The results were surprisingly good, with the string arrangements totally unobtrusive to the main instrument, being Elvis’ voice.

Ok — so call it a “necro-dub,” but “The Wonder of You” picks up where “If I Can Dream” left off, with some of Elvis the Pelvis’ best vocal performances and subdued, tasteful and
stunning orchestral touches that make you wonder why this didn’t happen when Elvis was alive.

“The Wonder of You” focuses less on El’s big, well-known hits for ’70s material featuring the master soul-mining newer pop material, and, many times, far surpassing the “original”
versions. Elvis’ band at the time was top-notch in the studio, so that was an important element for this to work. Well-recorded and mixed, the songs stand by themselves.

But the absolutely astonishing string arrangements take these gems to an entirely new level, transcending these already-great performances and making them masterpieces.

I don’t know how they pulled this off, but it’s really that grand. The strings are, again, not cloying or syrupy but an enhancement that matches Presley’s vocal performances to a “T.”
Some of these arrangements remind me of the great early ’70s Motown stuff by Marvin Gaye — they were meant to be there, and once heard, you can’t imagine them not part of
the song.

Mostly drawing on material from Elvis’ “mature” period, these tunes made anew, particularly with “I Just Can’t Help Believin'” — my favorite — “I’ve Got a Thing About You Baby” and
an overwhelming, spiritual tour de force with the King’s heartfelt rendition of “Amazing Grace,” which was stunning to begin with.

I also really dig the opener, which is surprising, since I never really cared much for the cheesy “A Big Hunk O’ Love.” But the orchestra makes it rock and brings it to life with a
fabulous intro and symphonic swing that never sags. It’s really quite excellent studiocraft and a real treat to hear.

Others getting the symphonic treatment include “Suspicious Minds,” “Don’t,” “Just Pretend,” “Love Letters,” “Starting Today,” “Kentucky Rain,” “Memories,” “Let it be Me,” “Always
on My Mind,” “The Wonder of You” and “Just Pretend,” a necro-duet with Helene Fischer, and my least favorite.

This album is a real labor of love, and it’s obvious it was crafted by arrangers and musicians who really understood Presley, picking tunes that would go well — seemlessly and
flawlessly — with his outstanding vocal performances of the ’70s. They also went out of their way to really create arrangements where’s Presley’s voice is even more so the main
instrument. And what an instrument it was — absolute perfection. This album will be a real eye-opener for those who dig the man’s talents. This album makes Elvis hip again, nearly
40 years after his death.

Highly, HIGHLY Recommended.