Looking for a change of pace, Elvis took a break from the ever-faithful Nick Lowe and dragged his band to Nashville to record a pile of country-and-western covers that would have been right at home in the redneck bar from The Blues Brothers.
Working with the legendary Billy Sherrill, the result was Almost Blue, a collection of songs known and unknown slathered with syrupy strings and female chorus vocals plus a little pedal-steel help from John McFee, who'd played on My Aim Is True. Yet it still sounds cohesive, thanks mostly to the patient performance of the Attractions. (Strangely enough, the album was a huge hit in the UK, and utterly ignored in the US.)
Tracks like "Sweet Dreams," "Success" and the hit single (!) "Good Year For The Roses" are ideal for crying in your beer, and "Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down" and the rollicking "Why Don't You Love Me (Like You Used To Do)" ignore any threat of a hangover. But Elvis saves his best vocals for a pair of Gram Parsons songs, "Hot Burrito #1" (here retitled "I'm Your Toy") and the closing "How Much I Lied."
Despite his overt passion for the music, and the genre as a whole, Almost Blue is still a diversion in the true sense of the word. And coming after the recent bounty of 20-track albums, it's awfully brief at about 32 minutes long. He was overdue for another great album of his own songs, and thankfully, didn't make us wait much longer.
Each of the reissued versions included several songs that didn't make the original album but had surfaced as B-sides, along with various live tracks from both the period surrounding the original album's release as well as a one-off show recorded two years earlier at an L.A. bar (with special guest John McFee, of all people).
The Rhino reissue included even more of those outtakes and live tracks (although leaving off two from the Rykodisc version), plus contemporary duets with Johnny Cash and George Jones.