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Elvis Presley: A Boy from Tupelo: The Complete 1953-1955 Recordings (RCA/Legacy)

Aug. 15, 2017
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One could be forgiven for listening to some of Elvis Presley’s early recordings and thinking: this guy should never have gone far. And then, suddenly, come revelatory tracks that still ring out nearly 70 years on. A Boy from Tupelo is the most complete collection of those early recordings, made in the Sun Records studio under the tutelage of producer Sam Phillips or taped from radio broadcasts in 1954 and ’55. 

Packaged with an extensive booklet lavish in prose and photos, the three-CD box set contains much that has never before been released. The essential tracks have, of course, been in circulation all these years, albeit they were never properly collected onto an album until 1976’s Sun Sessions. That material is contained on Disc One, along with four songs Elvis paid to record in 1953 and ’54, vanity records that caught Phillips’ ears for reasons that have been mythologized into legend. 

What did the producer actually hear in young Elvis’ sweet country croon, replete with the resigned fatalism that once characterized the songs of white rural America? Certainly, no trace of rock ’n’ roll was evident. The great moments of Disc One come when Elvis embraced the already nascent if unnamed genre of rockabilly. “That’s All Right” swings with sudden confidence, a sense of ease; “Good Rockin’ Tonight” briefly touches ecstasy; the psychotic “Baby Let’s Play House” crosses to the danger zone. But then there’s the lonesome Rodgers and Hart cover, “Blue Moon,” eerie when draped in Phillips’ reverb.

Disc Two with its multiple outtakes is of interest to popular music scholars who hope to trace Elvis’ work process in Phillips’ studio. Disc Three, mostly recorded on country music’s second most popular radio show, “The Louisiana Hayride,” captures an already adept vocalist capable of holding his own at the mic without the aid of Phillips’ echo chamber. “Well, sir, we just stumbled upon it,” he told the announcer when asked how he found his “folk music” style.

Boy From Tupelo is a gift for fans of early Elvis who want to follow his moves step by step.

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