Way Down In The Jungle Room
Elvis Presley’s Graceland recording sessions were to be his last, and they should have served as a wake-up call. Bored with performing, and too drugged out to leave his mansion, Presley’s record label RCA and longtime producer Felton Jarvis were quite desperate to get him to record anything, it was decided that if they couldn’t get The King into the studio, they’d bring the studio to The King. Thus, the legendary “Jungle Room” was converted into an ad hoc recording studio; two individual week-long sessions were conducted, one in February, one in October, and these yielded From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee and parts of his final album, Moody Blue. Way Down In The Jungle Room compiles the contents of both albums on one disc (sans the Moody Blue live tracks), and offers up a second disc of outtakes, alternate versions, and studio banter—almost all of which has been previously released.
The sessions went about as well as could be expected, considering Presley’s condition. The February sessions were productive—so much so that From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee was compiled. The October sessions were dire, yielding almost nothing of quality. Indeed, Moody Blue was as much a live album as it was a studio album; the four songs that were released are mediocre, half-assed, and atypical for the disinterested Presley, save for his take on Jim Reeves’ “He’ll Have To Go.” His final lifetime single, “Way Down,” also was recorded then, and though previous single “Moody Blue” showed that Presley still had some fire in his belly, “Way Down” could have been a great rocker, but Elvis simply sounds tired.
What was sad about Presley’s career was how quickly he would embrace mediocre material. The people around him didn’t really seem too interested in finding quality songs for him to perform, either; the best numbers offered here are the covers, such as the aforementioned Jim Reeves number, as well as “She Thinks I Still Care,” “Hurt,” and “Pledging My Love.” The reason these songs shine—in both master take and in outtake form—is because one senses that Presley was already intimately familiar with them. Of the newer material on offer, “Moody Blue” felt promising, because Presley was making a contemporary sound. With its mellow blend of country-rock (and even a smidgen of disco), it was Presley experimenting with the Contemporary Country sound, one which hadn’t quite developed yet, but was on the way there.
Way Down In The Jungle Room isn’t a particularly flattering release—the material is mostly inferior quality–and it isn’t a particularly revelatory release, either; the bonus material was polished after Presley’s death. Still, this is the final testament of the King of Rock and Roll, and it is important simply for its significance in the Presley canon.
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Categories: Album Reviews