The press release for this compilation states “BMG Strategic Marketing Group/RCA Music Group has released "Elvis Ultimate Gospel", the first greatest-hits collection of Elvis Presley's gospel recordings”. But we wonder how strategic the release was done; no promotion anywhere (besides two websites and a press release) and it took almost two weeks and ten stores to track down a copy. Most stores did not even have a clue this compilation was to be released; their computers did not feature the CD either.
The cover looks very good, a great “inspirational” shot of Elvis, his (first) name and the title. These three words say it all. The booklet is rather small with only six pages. The quotes from Gladys clearly show Elvis’ early love for this kind of music, and the liner notes by Ernst Jorgensen complete the basic information on Elvis’ love for gospel and his recordings briefly. Two pages with the standard song information and pictures fill out the remaining of the booklet. The person who selected these pictures did a very good job, no new images, but on all Elvis looks great.
The reason for this release was to put a new cover on the shelves containing Elvis’ gospel recordings. The remastered tracks (DSD technology) are a good addition to the new streamlined catalogue BMG seems to be building. His great recordings from 1956, country, movie and love songs have been made available in great audio quality along side the two greatest hits compilations “E1” and “E2”. But do we need another gospel compilation while other gospel compilations are also part of this catalogue and the previous Elvis release "Christmas Peace" was a 50% gospel release too?
As for the tracks themselves, nothing new here, but that was not the goal for this release. We get the music Elvis loved deeply, and most of what can be written about these recordings has been put on paper and the world wide web many times before.
The audio quality is great, you clearly hear all singers and musicians present in the recording, which is especially great with this kind of harmony music. On “Where Could I Go But To The Lord” you almost feel like you are standing near the performers with the finger snapping so clearly audible. But there is a lot of hiss on several songs like “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, “Swing Down Sweet Chariot” and “Reach Out To Jesus” (all recorded at different sessions, so that is probably not the cause). On other remastered released you can hear this too, probably a result of the remastering of the songs and emphasizing on a certain area of the sound spectrum.
We might have put the tracks in a different order, not starting with the “heavy” “How Great Thou Art” but a song like the second track ‘So High” or ‘Swing Down Sweet Chariot” since those are a bit more catchy because of the joy you feel through the music. But the balance between the “heavier” and “lighter” songs is well chosen, so overall it is a well balanced presentation of Elvis’ gospel recordings. The CD has plenty of space for several other tracks, but Elvis’ other gospel recordings probably did not fit in the producer’s definition of “Ultimate”. As we have seen in discussions on the internet, also on our own site, a lot of fans do not agree with that. But as ever, you can’t please everybody.
From all the gospel compilations released over the recent years this is probably a compilation we’ll pick out to play most often, because of the well balanced presentation and great audio quality. Still you have to keep in mind that it is not a “fan-release”, but for a bigger audience. This makes it even more strange that the promotion is so poor.