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Gospel according to Elvis

Tracks revisit Presley’s ‘favourite genre’, reports Philip Halcrow

The singer prays to feel God's presence

ANOTHER Elvis Presley album? Uh-huh-huh. Fourteen recordings by the King of Rock’n’Roll have been all shook up with new instrumentation and backing vocals for Where No One Stands Alone, released yesterday (Friday 10 August).

It’s not the first time that the late singer’s music has been reworked. JXL remixed ‘A Little Less Conversation’ into a No 1 single, and the Royal Philharmonic has lent its sound to the hit albums If I Can Dream, The Wonder of You and, last year, Christmas with Elvis and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

On the latest set of tracks, musicians and singers who performed with Elvis onstage or in the studio introduce new contributions to recordings which share a genre: gospel.

The line-up of guests includes Darlene Love, who sang with Elvis on his 1968 NBC TV special, and Cissy Houston of Elvis collaborators the Sweet Inspirations.

And on a key track, Lisa Marie Presley turns Elvis’s recording of ‘Where No One Stands Alone’ into a father-and-daughter duet, in which they sing a prayer: ‘Hold my hand … Let me stand where no one stands alone.’

It’s one of the more meditative songs on a collection that also includes a version of Andrae Crouch’s assertive expression of faith ‘I’ve Got Confidence’ and a playful Lieber and Stoller song, ‘Saved’, in which Elvis takes on the role of someone who used to ‘cuss, fuss’ and ‘lie and cheat and step on people’s feet’ but is now a preacher on the street ‘in that soul-saving army, beating on that big bass drum’.

The album even includes one of Elvis’s 21 UK No 1 hit singles, ‘Crying in the Chapel’, in which the singer describes shedding tears of joy because he has found that ‘burdens will be lighter’ now that he is ‘happy with the Lord’.

Notably, ‘Where No One Stands Alone’ is not the only track in which the singer prays to feel God’s presence. ‘When the storms of life are raging,’ Elvis pleads on an old gospel number, ‘stand by me.’

In her album notes Lisa Marie writes that gospel was Elvis’s ‘favourite genre – no question about it. He seemed to be at his most passionate, and at peace while singing gospel.’

Countless artists can’t help falling in love with gospel music. The same is true for huge numbers of people who hear it. And many are also grabbed by its message.

The themes of gospel can strike a chord. We have a suspicion that we’re not the people we should be. We don’t want to be cruel, uncaring or prejudiced, but sometimes we are. At other times, when life is heartbreaking for us, we can feel deserted.

But the figure at the centre of gospel music once invited people: ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28 New Revised Standard Version).

Jesus’ message was that if we put our trust in him, we will discover that God offers forgiveness for when we go wrong, guidance in tough times and an assurance that he won’t leave us to stand alone.

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