BMG, the German conglomerate that controls virtually everything Elvis Presley ever recorded, has managed to muck up the King's already murky legacy by issuing an awful dance remix of a mediocre song from 1968 and a multidisc box filled with too many inferior alternate takes of already lousy songs from bad movies (see reviews, July 10 issue).
But leave it to the tiny Tomato label, which has taken some of Presley's legendary -- but notoriously lo-fi -- 1954-56 performances on the Louisiana Hayride radio programs, to release a real winner. The label has dubbed in new upright bass thumps and rhythm guitar strums to fill in for the barely audible parts originally played by Bill Black and Presley himself; in short, Tomato actually does the remixing job Presley deserves. Although distortion mars Presley's vocals on occasion, Scotty Moore's original lead guitar lines shine through, and new, faithfully recreated parts by bassist Paul Nowinski and guitarist Jon Paris do much to make the material more listenable.
When Presley appeared on the Louisiana Hayride, a minor-league version of the Grand Ole Opry, he was a rising light on the Southern C&W circuit, a show-opener for such stars as Faron Young and Webb Pierce. Hank Williams may have wiggled his knees and moaned the blues, but country audiences had never before seen anything quite like Presley. With the exception of "Hound Dog," which Elvis and the boys transform midperformance into a bump-and-grind slow blues, all of the selections were cut before the singer signed with RCA Victor and began having his music homogenized to satisfy mainstream Northern tastes.
The deafening screams that erupt throughout the nine songs on Roots Revolution are as much a reaction to his gyrations as they are to the way he and the band rocked the songs. Other than a cranked-up rendition of Bill Monroe's "Blue Moon of Kentucky," all were drawn from the R&B realm. The surprises here are Chuck Berry's "Maybellene" and the LaVern Baker hit "Tweedle Dee," neither of which Presley ever recorded in the studio.
Hokey conversation between the singer and MC Horace Logan, along with a Lucky Strike cigarette commercial, add to the appeal of this CD, which stands out as one of the few true gems to emerge amid the media frenzy surrounding the 25th anniversary of Presley's demise.