It never ceases to amaze me just how many different ways the music industry can repackage the music we know and love. While I was underwhelmed by the Carpenters With The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra release, I was blown away by the Elvis Presley album.
The song selection is superb, but I do question if Burning Love was the best song to get the Philharmonic treatment and open the album with. Of course, that is only one song, and the rest of the album is beyond reproach with a very tasteful orchestral inclusion to Presley’s timeless classics.
Of course, this 2015 compilation wouldn’t be the only release to merge the classical with the rock and roll legend, but to be completely honest, I haven’t taken the time to listen to the followup, The Wonder Of You, as I fear it was released following the overwhelming success of If I Can Dream and history has taught me to be wary of additional instalments as they can, but rarely do, exceed the expectations of the original highly successful release. Of course, the Helene Fischer duet on The Wonder Of You is, to say the least, compelling as she has a divine voice. Never say never, dear reader, for one day you may just see a review of The Wonder Of You pop up on Subjective Sounds; just don’t hold your breath for a review of Christmas With Elvis And The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
The release of If I Can Dream that I’m fortunate enough to own is the standard 14-track CD release. Sonically, it’s beautiful and that is of course, in part, due to the masterful arrangements and mixing that ensures Elvis has never sounded better. The mastering is beyond reproach and shows just how good CD can sound, thanks in part to Vic Anesini at Battery Studios in New York. Of course, as with all standard releases, there is also a Deluxe Edition that I’ve lusted over for some time, but I have to remind myself that I am thoroughly happy with the track selection that is featured on the standard CD release and while I may be missing out on Anything That’s Part Of You, What Now My Love, and Heartbreak Hotel, I much prefer the artwork on the standard release as it is less pompous than the Deluxe Edition. Although, and this may be confusing, the Apple Music/iTunes (Mastered for iTunes) edition uses the alternative artwork even though the additional tracks are not present. Nevertheless, I love the classic photographs that appear throughout the liner notes as they pay homage to the era; something that I feel all reissues should do henceforth as a true representation of the artist.
Also included in the liner notes is a lovely reflection by Priscilla Presley, giving us some insight into Elvis’ mindset following his recording sessions whereby he longed for a fuller sound, one that can really only be achieved with the assistance of an orchestra. I can’t argue with that opinion, for I too love the fullness of an orchestral body of work and when I listen to some of the legacy Elvis recordings, I would appreciate a fuller sound. Well, now we have it and it is fair to say that if you take the time to listen to, and appreciate, If I Can Dream, you’ll hear these classics as you’ve never heard them before and you’ll likely, as I have, fall in love with them all over again.
Just a final note on the liner notes, I can’t begin to express just how appreciative I am to the team behind this release. They have gone above and beyond, nothing has been missed, and it is a pleasure to sit, flick between the pages, and enjoy as I sit back and listen to this masterpiece. I’d like to say this is common, but I have so many CD releases that seem as though they’ve just been thrown together on a whim, with no real thought or care put in place, especially in the modern era where streaming is now dominant. Subsequently, it is refreshing to see that some record labels and releases still go that extra step to ensure fans are rewarded with albums that can really be wonderful experiences that extend beyond the sonic pleasures of the release.
Burning Love is a great song, but I’m a little conflicted about the decision to use it as the opener as the other songs included on this compilation release are a little less rock and roll. That isn’t to say that Burning Love doesn’t work with an orchestra approach, or that I dislike the song, nothing could be further from the truth. It simply means that out of all the songs selected, I feel this is the least appealing, but I can understand why it was chosen. Regardless of my subjective thoughts, fans will likely be in awe and will thoroughly enjoy this rendition.
It’s Now Or Never is a lovely song and sets the tone and overall tempo for the rest of the album.
Love Me Tender is one of the most beautiful songs ever written and recorded and while the original is beyond reproach, this melding of styles takes the song to a completely new level. One that will allow you to experience it as if it were the first time all over again. This song is the very reason why I love music as much as I do.
Fever (feat. Michael Bublé) is a great song and while I was initially skeptical of Bublé’s inclusion, it works so well. However, if there is one element that doesn’t sit well with me, it is the vocal tracking. There is a difference between the Presley and Bublé vocal tracks, resulting in a little echo, most likely due to the tracks being recorded in two different studios, at two different time periods. You don’t notice it when listening to the songs with Presley on his own, but it is a minor irritation in this song. Not that it deters me from enjoying it, for I love it, but this slight variation is especially apparent when listening via headphones so music lovers who are sensitive to such small deviations may be best advised to listen to the album via loudspeakers.
Bridge Over Troubled Water is an absolute classic and while I love the Simon & Garfunkel original, Presley’s rendition has always been incredible, one of the very best ever recorded, and this orchestral rendition takes the song to another level of listening pleasure. Truth-be-told, I’ve never heard a bad interpretation of this masterpiece, but I do have a soft spot for this version and I suggest you turn the volume up, sit back with a glass of wine, and enjoy. It’s absolutely spectacular!
And The Grass Won’t Pay No Mind is a song where you can really hear Neil Diamond. Arguably, I feel the Neil Diamond original is the better version and as I think about it, I can’t help but wonder just how incredible Diamond’s entire catalogue would be with an orchestral mix. Nevertheless, this is a lovely rendition and a perfect addition to the album.
You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling is another absolute classic and while I enjoy Presley’s rendition, I feel the mix with the original recording and the orchestral backing is a little rough in places, especially in the backing vocal elements that I feel detract from the orchestral element as they are simply too prominent in the mix.
There’s Always Me is one of the songs on the album that I’m not overly familiar with. Yes, I adore Presley’s entire catalogue, but even the most devout fan will likely be unfamiliar with a few songs here and there. Nevertheless, There’s Always Me is a lovely addition to the album and doesn’t feel out-of-place.
Can’t Help Falling In Love is another Presley classic that requires no introduction or commentary. The original is a masterpiece and this orchestral version has merely enhanced the song. Stunning!
In The Ghetto is one of my all-time favourite Elvis songs. Without a doubt, the production team behind this release really chose well, considering just how many exceptional songs Presley recorded in his life. I can only imagine the discussions surrounding the selection process. It certainly wouldn’t have been easy and perhaps that is why additional releases have been forthcoming because the mixture of Elvis and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is a match made in heaven.
How Great Thou Art is a lovely hymn and on first listen doesn’t seem like a good song to select for this compilation, but I’m happy to say that I stand corrected for I couldn’t imagine this release without this song.
Steamroller Blues is moody and brooding and absolutely perfect.
An American Trilogy is a lovely song that is enhanced beautifully with the orchestral overtures.
If I Can Dream is the perfect song to close the album on as it bookends the album nicely with the style of Burning Love as the opener, ensuring that I will listen to the album again and stay within Presley’s extensive catalogue of music.
Overall, If I Can Dream is, truly, a dream come true for any Elvis fan. Elvis is in the room with you, as is the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and arguably has never sounded better. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I couldn’t imagine a better homage to such a sensational talent. We are truly fortunate to have Elvis’ music, but we are even more fortunate to have such a respectful modernisation of some of his greatest hits.