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Robert Gordon and Chris Spedding

It's Now or Never

(Rykodisc; US: 31 Jul 2007; UK: Available as import)

The King is dead but he's not forgotten

Hard to believe, but Elvis Presley has been dead for 30 years. The King is still with us, or at least his iconographic image still exists in our popular culture. The pleasure of his music has become diluted over time through its use in commercials, movies, and television shows as a way to establish a certain period or stylized rebellion. This is unfortunate because Elvis did have such a rich and wonderful voice. New Wave rockabilly star Robert Gordon has returned to remind us of the King’s magnificence. He’s joined forces with his former band-mate, guitar hero Chris Spedding, and employed Presley’s original back up singers, the Jordanaires, and released a new CD of Elvis’ lesser known tunes from the movies, plus a few classic blasts from the past.


Gordon has always sounded like Elvis. He’s not an imitator, just in possession of a similar tone and timbre. That’s why Bruce Springsteen gave Gordon the song “Fire” to record all those years ago.  The Boss knew Gordon would make that song smolder. The rockabilly artist does the same here, on beat-heavy songs like “Too Much” as well as on tender, romantic ballads like “Love me”. Gordon also utilizes the Jordanaires to good effect on these tracks as they echo his vocals with doo wop flair. When Gordon begins with a note from deep in the back of his throat, he understands that the back-up singers will be able to highlight the effect just by crooning “woo” in lilting harmonies.


Spedding shows his stuff here by not showing off. He picks clearly and cleanly and lets the notes ring. Spedding shines on simple melodies like “Trying to Get to You” and lets the instrumental portion build to a climax in subtle increments. Spedding’s restraint also works on the more rocking numbers, like “I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone” where he plucks the notes in rapid succession without ever seeming to increase the speed. That’s the mark of a master.


Gordon, Spedding, and company reveal the diversity of the King’s oeuvre by covering a variety of styles that includes gospel, blues, pop, roots rock, country, R&B, ballads, and stuff that just feels distinctly Elvis, like “Don’t Be Cruel”. Most of the songs combine parts of the various genres, which was part of Elvis’ genius. Through his voice and charisma, he was able to meld the disparate elements and make them all one piece. Gordon has the voice down here. There is no doubt that anyone hearing these songs on the radio would just assume Elvis had done them. That is, the young Elvis. None of the later Memphis comeback, Nashville, or Vegas stuff is in here.


That’s all right. This CD captures the original Elvis from the Sun years to his early time spent in Hollywood with sincerity and heart. There’s no ironic distance, cheap cynicism, or cheesy copying that Elvis himself employed while poking fun at his former self during his later shows and recordings. Gordon plays it straight. Even when covering the spiritual “Peace in the Valley,” Gordon sings the devotional lyrics as if he’s a true believer—and he is, in the church of Elvis. Spedding stays true to the way music used to be played, when the guitar man stayed in the background and let his fingers do the talking. His solos always fit the material. And the Jordanaires remain the true professionals they have always been. They never miss a cue or stretch for a note.


The world needs another Elvis record, even if it’s not by the King himself, to remind us of the magic that the human voice and a guitar can create. It may be 30 years since the King passed away, but he will never die as long as music like this continues to be made. While there may be nothing new here, the value of the old should not be lost to the dustbins of history.

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Steven Horowitz has a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Iowa, where he continues to teach a three-credit online course on "Rock and Roll in America". He has written for many different popular and academic publications including American Music, Paste and the Icon. Horowitz is a firm believer in Paul Goodman's neofunctional perspective on culture and that Sam Cooke was right, a change is gonna come.


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