- Elvis Presley – vocals, acoustic guitar
- The Jordanaires – backing vocals
- Boots Randolph – saxophone
- Scotty Moore – electric guitar
- Hank Garland – acoustic guitar
- Floyd Cramer – piano
- Bob Moore – double bass
- D.J. Fontana, Buddy Harman – drums
When I saw that the next studio album Elvis released was a Gospel album I internally groaned. When recording artists abruptly transition to another genre it can be a cringe-inducing listening party full of contrived creative choices. However, I shouldn’t have been concerned. Elvis had a great love for Gospel music, often warming up with Gospel music before going onstage. Also, the 1960s saw an attempt to reclassify Elvis as a more family-friendly artist, and this album was seen as a stepping stones to achieve that.
What resulted was, His Hand in Mine, Elvis’ 4th studio album. Featuring his usual band of players, and backing vocalists The Jordanaires, the album was recorded in a single 14 hour session. Despite my initial skepticism, the consistency of the band and Elvis’ love of Gospel music make for a beautiful collection of songs.
His Hand in Mine starts off with the titular track, where the vocal formula for the album is immediately established, with Elvis opting for a softer vocal, allowing his voice to fully mesh with The Jordanaires. About 1/3 of the way through the song he transitions back into his famous, deep, velvety voice, which makes the song function as a duet between Elvis and himself. The song is sweet and simple with a lovely sentiment and the last note of the song, with all the voices in harmony, is gorgeous. “I’m Gonna Walk Dem Golden Stairs” is, dare I say, a Gospel bop?? Ironically, it is the most rock n’ roll Elvis has sounded since he got back from the military. Again this features some intricate harmony singing with The Jordanaires, almost like Elvis is singing with them, rather than in front of them.
Choir-esque harmonies are the centerpiece of “In My Father’s House” a somber song that is kept from the doldrums by a light piano part courtesy of Floyd Cramer. I could not find the credits here, but there is a deeper, baritone voice in this song that I believe is meant to function as the preacher, who sings in stark contrast to Elvis. The most beautiful singing on the album is on “Milky White Way”. This song, about going to heaven (a common theme on this album), features a blues shuffle and some rock n’ roll swagger, all the while still keeping the religious spirit sincere.
Starting with “Known Only to Him” the album enters a slightly lacking middle section, nothing too horrible, but nothing too memorable either. “Known Only to Him” has Elvis singing in a high voice that sounds almost weak (which does not suit either Elvis or the song). The piano and backing vocals are nice, but that’s about it. There’s an acapella beginning to “I Believe in the Man in the Sky”, that then opens up into a rollicking Gospel tune, the transition making this song really enjoyable to listen to.
Jaunty “Joshua Fit the Battle” is the one where Elvis’ softer singing style finally clicks. This song is styled in a fashion very reminiscent of his early ’50s hits, which works surprisingly well for the Gospel genre. “He Knows Just What I Need” was not what I needed on this album. It is arranged much like a traditional church song and nothing special.
Luckily, “Swing Down Sweet Chariot” is up next and is so celebratory and joyous you just have to dance. The counterpoint singing wherein The Jordanaires literally “swing” Elvis’ voice back and forth make this song about facing death into an absolute party! The most beautiful song musically goes to the 10th track on the album, “Mansion Over the Hilltop”. This soothing song is the one true song on the album that spotlights Elvis’ softer singing voice in a very flattering way. The piano flourishes sprinkled throughout give the potentially dragging melody some shine.
“If We Never Meet Again” is my favorite song on the album. The narrator is singing to a loved one, saying goodbye and hoping they will meet again. The lyrics are so peaceful and serene, it is the perfect musical epitome of the acceptance stage of grief. The album ends on an upbeat note with “Working on the Building”. This song is rejuvenating after the solemnity of the last track. And, although a religious song, it could be taken as a metaphor about improving one’s own self. This song again features counterpoint vocals which infuse the song with an energy that might not have been there otherwise.
All in all this album is a great Gospel album and a solid offering in the Elvis catalogue. His band sounds great, the backing vocalists are on fire, and Elvis himself is not too shabby. The key here is the obvious passion Elvis had for these songs, not for one second did I think he was phoning it in. If you are into Gospel or even just great early rock n’ roll, I can definitely recommend this to you.
Recommended songs: “His Hand in Mine”, “Milky White Way”, “Swing Down Sweet Chariot”, “Mansion on the Hilltop”, and, “If We Never Meet Again”