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1. Review by Crister Berge
AMAZING GRACE (2CD) (07863 66421 2)

Includes "all" gospel songs recorded by Elvis. From the albums His Hand In Mine (1960), How Great Thou Art (1967) and He Touched Me (1972). Also from the EP Peace In The Valley.

Available on CD and Cassettes.

A must have!!

I Believe - Peace In The Valley - Take My Hand Precious Lord - It Is No Secret - Milky White Way - His Hand In Mine - I Believe In The Man In The Sky - He Knows Just What I Need - Mansion Over The Hilltop - In My Fathers House - Joshua Fit The Battle - Swing Down Sweet Chariot - I'm Gonna Walk Dem Golden Stairs - If We Never Meet Again - Known Only To Him - Working On The Building - Crying In The Chapel - Run On - How Great Thou Art - Stand By Me - Where No One Stands Alone - So High - Farther Along - By And By - In The Garden - Somebody Bigger Than You And I - Without Him - If The Lord Wasn't Walking By My Side - Where Could I Go But To The Lord
We Call On Him - You'll Never Walk Alone - Only Believe - Amazing Grace - Miracle Of The Rosary - Lead Me, Guide Me - He Touched Me - I've Got Confidence - An Evening Prayer - Seeing Is Believing - A Thing Called Love - Put Your Hand In The Hand - Reach Out To Jesus - He Is My Everything - There Is No God But God - I, John - Bosom Of Abraham - Help Me - If That Isn't Love - Why Me Lord (Live) - How Great Thou Art (Live) - *I, John - *Bosom Of Abraham - *You Better Run - *Lead Me, Guide Me - *Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus/Nearer My God To Thee

1. Review by Crister Berge

"The Essential Gospel Masters"
Two CD's filled to the brim with all of the songs from Elvis' three sacred albums; the four songs that made up the 1957 EP PEACE IN THE VALLEY and two live performances. In addition we get five previously unreleased numbers from an impromptu jam session held in 1972. All in all, 55 tracks in excellent sound! The liner notes by Charles Wolfe are well-written and a regular A-B-C of American gospel, with lots of information about the gospel quartets that Elvis loved. Too bad the photos are so poorly reproduced. This is just meant as a brief overlook. Check out my EASTER SPECIAL review if you want more of my gospel views.

The four major religious sessions took place in 1957, 1960, 1966 and 1971. It was undoubtedly four very different phases of Elvis' life: In 1957, Elvis was the newly crowned 22-year old King of this new craze called Rock and roll. After performing 'Peace In The Valley' on the Ed Sullivan Show, public demand prompted the famous gospel EP. In 1960, Elvis had come out of his self-inflicted two-year hibernation. His comeback proved to be very successful and he sang better than ever. 1966 was a different ball game altogether. This was during the first real low point in Elvis' career, he was depressed from making one silly movie after the other, his weight ballooned and he'd lock himself up in his room at Graceland for days. The session that yielded HOW GREAT THOU ART was his first non-soundtrack effort for more than two years. In 1971, Elvis was doing live appearances again: travelling the country criss-cross between the month-long Las Vegas engagements. He'd just started to experience the deadly boredom of being an underpaid family entertainer trapped in Sin City. Record sales were plummeting "slowly but surely", his use of prescription drugs were rampaging and his marriage was falling apart, much to his own fault.

Except for 'Peace In The Valley,' the songs that made up the 1957 EP are bloody awful! Real sleeping pills. That Elvis really cared for this music is out of the question, but as a consequence, his approach is unfortunately a bit too cautious in several songs. It becomes very apparent in the fast numbers, f.e. 'Joshua Fit The Battle' or 'Swing Down Sweet Chariot.' The mixing is also a sad chapter, take 'So High,' for instance: The vocal backing is too far back! (Reportedly, Elvis was furious about this. There's an alternate take on EASTER SPECIAL that Elvis would have liked better, with the vocal group way up in the mix.)

Elvis worked these sessions as a member of a group, even letting bass singer Ray Walker sing lead on one cut ('In My Father's House'). 'Run On' is a great song and it's just one chord all the way! 'Stand By Me' is another favorite of mine and in case you didn't know, it is NOT the Ben E King song! A lame 'Where Could I Go But To The Lord' is jaded by fingersnapping. The version from Elvis TV Special is about a zillion times better.

The seventies
I'm a little schizofrenic to the 70's material, I'm very fond of 'Put Your Hand In The Hand' and the "math song" 'I, John' (even though my favorite version of it is Mark Schraven's!) but I absolutely loathe 'There Is No God But God' and the horrendous 'Seeing Is Believing,' by Memphis mafioso Red West. And there's NO WAY I would classify 'A Thing Called Love' as a gospel song! Of the twelve songs on HE TOUCHED ME, three were written by William J. Gaither. A live rendition of 'How Great Thou Art' is much more powerful and passionate than the tepid studio version. The sound quality of the songs from the jam session is very good.

Too many slow songs for my taste and believe it or not, some of the alternate takes on EASTER SPECIAL are actually better than the masters! But if you don't have the three gospel albums, this is a collection well worth purchasing.

On a scale from 1 to 5, I give AMAZING GRACE a 3.

By the way: An even more extensive gospel compilation (with a lot of shit in sub-standard sound quality) was released in 2000 on a 3-CD set called PEACE IN THE VALLEY. Rest assured, you can settle for this one.

© Crister Berge, Stockholm, Sweden 2002. (

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