Elvis Presley

The Complete Elvis Presley Masters

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Often it seems that every note Elvis Presley ever recorded has been repackaged and reissued in every conceivable combination, but there has never been a set comparable to 2010's The Complete Elvis Presley Masters, a lavish limited 30-disc set that rounds up all 711 completed takes from Presley, including 100 relative rarities. There's never been an Elvis box like this and, apart from Sony/Legacy's near-simultaneously released complete Miles Davis box, no other single set that covers so much ground -- and even that isn't quite right, because that only covers Miles' Columbia albums, whereas this boxes the entirety of Elvis' legacy. The Complete Elvis Presley Masters doesn't cast new light on that legacy, but that's a tall order for any body of work as well documented as Elvis', whose every nook and cranny has been examined in sets both large and small. If anything, listening to his complete masters in chronological order supports the conventional wisdom of the arc of Elvis' career, how it began with a burst of brilliance and slowed down after he returned from the Army, how he revved back up in 1968 and then maintained cruise control in the '70s, picking up speed every once and a while, as on Elvis Country or Aloha from Hawaii. Surprises are few, arriving mainly in the sheer number of gospel, seasonal, and soundtrack recordings Presley cut during the '60s, their abundance slowing the momentum somewhat in the second third of this box, but that only makes the 1968 comeback seem stronger, and that only underscores that the delight of The Complete Elvis Presley Masters is its details, how it tells one of the greatest tales of the 20th century in a luxuriously thorough, leisurely manner. Surely this is too grand for most listeners, but for those with deep pocketbooks this is a set that justifies its expense, both in its historic import and entertainment value.