The fifth volume of the Essential Elvis series, like its predecessors, consists of previously unreleased alternate takes of recordings issued during Elvis Presley's lifetime. In this case, the selections are drawn from two recording sessions, held in July and December 1973, at the Stax recording studio in Memphis, TN. 1973 was, according to co-producer and annotator Ernst Mikael Jorgensen, "the last significantly successful year in Elvis' career, " and the Memphis sessions, held in his hometown, were notable for opening up a broader range of songs for his consideration following the shuttering of Hill & Range, the publishing company he had drawn upon previously. One could make a case for the importance of access to material as crucial to the quality of Presley's recordings (the last time he had strayed from Hill & Range, the result was "In the Ghetto," among other hits), and the appearance of titles by the likes of Dennis Linde (author of "Burning Love"), Tony Joe White, Tom Jans, and Danny O'Keefe ("Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues"), not to mention Chuck Berry's "Promised Land," ups the ante on these sessions notably. The results were released on the modest-selling albums Raised on Rock/For Ol' Times Sake, Good Times, and Promised Land, and on the chart singles "Raised on Rock," "For Ol' Times Sake," "I've Got a Thing About You Baby," "Take Good Care of Her," "If You Talk in Your Sleep," and "Promised Land." The alternate takes of some of these tracks, included here, do not improve on the master takes (which were not the best of Elvis to begin with), but it is interesting to hear the variations, as well as the asides from the singer that give some of the flavor of the sessions. (A great deal more of the flavor, some of it quite tart, might have been tasted had Jorgensen included some of the dialogue he quotes in his book Elvis Presley: A Life in Music, published the month before this album was released.) Of course, the disc isn't really essential to anyone but Elvis fanatics, but there are plenty of them (OK, us).
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann