Released: January 1971
Chart Peak: #12
Weeks Charted: 21
Certified Gold: 12/1/77
You wonder sometimes just who is controlling Elvis' career. In the middle of a typical movie soundtrack album, Spinout, you come across not only a raunchy "Down in the Alley" but the interpretation by which Bob Dylan would most like to be known, "Tomorrow is a Long Time." In a bland follow-up to his dynamic Memphis album, Back in Memphis, you find a brilliant and impassioned treatment of the Percy Mayfield blues, "Stranger in My Own Home Town." And now at a time when it seemed as if his career must sink beneath the accumulated weight of saccharine ballads and those sad imitations of his own imitators, Elvis Presley has come out with a record which gives us some of the very finest and most affecting music since he first recorded for Sun almost 17 years ago.
Elvis Country is, obviously, a return to roots. If nothing else the album cover, with its picture of a quizzical Depression baby flanked by grim unsmiling parents, would tell you so. Its subtitle too, "I'm 10,000 Years Old" -- taken from a song which weaves mystifyingly all through the record, fading in and out after every cut -- should give a clue to its intent. And the selection of material, from the Bill Monroe tune which echoes "Blue Moon of Kentucky," the very first Sun release, to the Willie Nelson and Bob Wills blues, is a far cry from the slick country-politan which Elvis has been leaning on so heavily lately in his singles releases.
But the core of the album, and perhaps the core of Elvis' music itself, are the soulful gospel-flavored ballads, "Tomorrow Never Comes," "Funny (How Time Slips Away)," and the Eddie Arnold-Solomon classic, "I Really Don't Want to Know." Well, it's often seemed as if Elvis bore more than a passing resemblance to Solomon Burke. The way in which he uses his voice, his dramatic exploitation of vocal contrast, the alternate intensity and effortless nonchalance of his approach all put one in mind of a singer who passed this way before, only going the other way. And here he uses these qualities to create a music which, while undeniable country, puts him in touch more directly with the soul singer than with traditional country music. It was his dramatic extravagance in fact which set him apart from the beginning, and it is to this perhaps as much as anything else -- to the very theatrics which Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis all brought to hillbilly music -- that we can trace the emergence of rock & roll.
There's not much to reproach about the album. Except for "Snowbird," an unaccountable choice to open this album or any other, the choice of material is unexceptionable. It does continue, it's true, a puzzling fascination with Eddy Arnold's songs, but these, too, are invested with Elvis' own particular brand of passion, and even "Make the World Go Away" becomes by transformation a kind of urgent plea. The production is fine and a big improvement on recent records. Instrumentation is perfect, from driving bass and rocking gospel-flavored piano to more traditional fiddle, harmonica, and dobro. On a good many of the songs there's the tasteful suggestion of strings and horns and a chorus appears on about half, but we really haven't heard so much of Elvis in a long, long time, and certainly the element of playfulness in his voice, the degree to which he is willing to take risks is something that has been absent since the very earliest days. There remains only the mystery of the album's theme and the song which gives it its title. Even that is not so much of a drawback as a puzzlement, though, since the song -- fragmented as it is -- gives promises of being one of his more exciting revival-styled numbers, if only it were put together again.
- Peter Guralnick, Rolling Stone, 3-4-71.
This is much better than Elvis' recently released "live" soundtrack to his latest movie. The album is titled I'm 10,000 Years Old - Elvis Country and the music is the finest country in the land. There's not a note of the excessive over arrangement that you've heard in the past. The arrangements and musicanship here is more reminiscent of New Morning than old Elvis records, though Dylan's band really can't compare to this mellowness. The songs are dynamite, from a Presley rework of "Snowbird," to a super tasteful track of "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," to fantastic country crooning on "Funny How Time Slips Away," and "I Washed My Hands In Muddy Water." And to spice it up (and space it out) Elvis has added this concept of "I'm 10,000 Years Old." About ten seconds of a song by that title are inserted after every cut on the album. The words to it are farther out than most recent Presley. Oddly, the album is packaged in loveable banality -- there's a picture of Elvis at age 2 on the cover and the back song listings are superimposed on logs. Have a good next 10,000 years Elvis: you're the tripsmaster of all time.
- Danny Goldberg, Circus, 3/71.
This is a great album, wherein Elvis shows his country roots. Many of the tunes are arranged with gospel chord progressions, giving a true Southern flavor to the cuts. Sides include his current smash, "I Really Don't Want To Know" and "There Goes My Everything," plus "I Washed My Hands In Muddy Water" and others. A stone gas for pop and country charts.
- Billboard, 1971.
It's no secret that the late Elvis Presley's recorded output was... well, spotty. Despite his enormous natural gifts, his albums were too often indifferently produced, tackily packaged, and littered with songs of (as Greil Marcus put it) awesome ickiness. There were exceptions, of course, and one of the finest is the sadly overlooked Elvis Country (RCA LSP-4460). It's a concept album, believe it or not, subtitled "I'm 10,000 Years Old." The cover photo is a stark, Depression-era shot of Elvis and his folks when the King was just a toddler. Inside, snatches of an incredibly exciting revival-tent rocker fade in and out mysteriously between twelve cuts running the gamut from quasi-devotional to straight country, urban blues, and rockabilly. The uncredited backings are, for a change, tasteful and contemporary, and all through Elvis sings with a passion and flair unmatched since the classic Sun sides he cut at the beginning of his career; maybe in some strange way he took the subtitle seriously. It's close to being a perfect record, a sad and powerful reminder of the greater heights this unique, quintessentially American artist might have achieved if he (or Colonel Parker, we'll never really know) ever had a compelling reason to try.
- Steve Simels, Stereo Review, 4/78.
A disastrous conceit, in which snippets of a "theme" song segue between tracks, makes it very hard to tell what happens to the Big Concept -- Elvis sings Ernest Tubb, Bill Monroe, Bob Wills, Anne Murray, etc. Most of his recordings sound suspiciously casual anyway, like preconcert runthroughs, and these segues add a rushed medley feel. "The Fool" and "It's Your Baby, You Rock It" work, and "Whole Lot-ta Shakin'" works out. But Tubb's "Tomorrow Never Comes" is a horn-fed monstrosity. And somehow I don't think Elvis had his heart in "Snowbird." B-
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
Elvis Country was the second album from Elvis's June 1970 Nashville sessions (its predecessor, That's The Way It Is, was the first). It is Elvis's best single album from the '70s and one of his very best ever. Every performance has something to offer; one can argue about the outstanding selection, although one tends away from the pleading of "I Really Don't Want to Know" to the raving "(I Washed My Hands In) Muddy Water." Even "Snowbird" is sung with passion! * * * *
- Neal Umphred, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
Elvis Country was proof that the 70s Elvis wasn't just a fat druggie awaiting death. * * * *
- Steve Knopper, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.
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