Quite simply, this record is Billy Swan playing Elvis songs. If you love Elvis or maybe radio station "Oldies WXYZ" you'll love this collection. Otherwise you may find the cheese and schmaltz somewhat overwhelming. I love Elvis, for all his cheese and schmaltz, but Swan replays Elvis songs with a passion verging on insipid and limp. Many of the tracks are backed with enough doo-wop stylings to get any bobby-socker raging with burnin' love, but they make me remember why I have always hated Sha Na Na and roller skating. Swan's "hunka hunka burnin' love" sounds more like a hunka hunka old bricks buried under Beale Street. Swan may have the passion for Elvis and the changes he brought to rock and roll, but Swan's renditions of Elvis' songs sound more like they are filtering out the back door of a Holiday Inn lounge somewhere just outside of Des Moines.
According to the liner notes, Swan has a songwriting (and producing) career that spans almost 30 years, including the country smash hits “I Can Help,” “Lover Please,” and “Polk Salad Annie.” Swan has a love for “all things Elvis” and even had the thrill of Elvis recording “I Can Help” late in his career. In fact I think this album’s high point is the cover announcing “Recorded at the Legendary SUN Studio.”
Swan does not redo Elvis’ songs in the tradition of Elvis’ sneer and wiggle, but rather tries to add something new, but scarcely succeeds. I have heard much better versions of all of these songs, though usually done with something new like a punk sensibility, or country twang, or instrumental banjo or tuba. Swan merely replays Elvis’s hits in his own (rather flat) style, many with a reggae beat reminiscent of some switch on my uncle’s Hammond organ.
If you love and revere Elvis, you’ll love this CD as an addition to your collection. If you think Elvis is funny, or fascinating, or find the whole Elvis infatuation culture odd and alienating, this album will only add to your feelings.
// Notes from the Road
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