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'If I Can Dream' review: Elvis on an orchestral scale

Elvis Presley's

Elvis Presley's "If I Can Dream" album. Credit: RCA/Legacy Records

In the 38 years since his death, Elvis Presley's work has been re-examined, re-engineered and remixed seemingly every which way. But this one -- "If I Can Dream" (RCA/Legacy) -- is new. And it works so well, it's a wonder no one thought of it sooner.

"If I Can Dream" takes Presley's vocals and surrounds them with new arrangements and performances from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, a project headed by producers Don Reedman and Nick Patrick.

The brilliance of the idea is evident from the opening orchestral flourish that segues into the stomping "Burning Love." A less dynamic singer's vocals may have drowned in the lush string section pieces and the choral backing. But there's a reason why Presley is The King and his powerful delivery more than holds court in a musical kingdom as regal as anything he ever had before.

On ballads like "Love Me Tender," the producers take care not to lose the charm of the originals, adding a new orchestral opening but stripping it back to just Presley's voice and an acoustic guitar for the first verse. Generally, the layers of new music simply serve to magnify Presley's delivery and the drama of the songs -- adding a musical grandeur that simply wasn't economically or technologically possible at the time of the original recordings.

Even "Fever," which has oddly been recast as a duet between Presley and Michael Bublé, succeeds as a new, dramatic piece of jazz-inflected pop. There are some missteps -- including an odd, gassy sounding horn sound that punctuates the beat on "Steamroller Blues" and using an uncharacteristically wobbly vocal from Presley for "You've Lost That Loving Feeling," though that is quickly forgotten once the song picks up steam.

"If I Can Dream" gives new life to 14 Presley classics, a worthy present to mark the 80th anniversary of his birth.


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