NPR logo Cyrus Chestnut Out-Elvises Elvis

Cyrus Chestnut Out-Elvises Elvis

Love Me Tender

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Wednesday's Pick

  • Song: "Love Me Tender"
  • Artist: Cyrus Chestnut
  • CD: Cyrus Plays Elvis
  • Genre: Jazz

In "Love Me Tender," Cyrus Chestnut takes a sappy song and sets it free. Courtesy of Cyrus Chestnut hide caption

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Courtesy of Cyrus Chestnut

Elvis Presley was a lot of things. He was a rags-to-riches success story. He borrowed blues and gospel licks from the black performers he admired and introduced them to a mainstream audience. He wasn't a mere American Idol, but the king himself. But he didn't really know how to tell a woman to "Love Me Tender," singing the song with a syrupy sincerity that's rarely the best way to a lover's heart.

Cyrus Chestnut, on the other hand, knows how to conjure up a spirit of genuine romance. Just listen to the jaunty jazz pianist's reinvention of "Love Me Tender" on his new CD, Cyrus Plays Elvis. It's a great example of how a gifted musician can take a sappy song and set it free.

The much-heard melody, lifted from an old Civil War ballad, rings out with newfound oomph, sounding insistent yet dreamy. Chestnut reinvigorates the song with lush chords, playful grace notes, worshipful tremolos and effortless runs up and down the 88s. Sometimes, the melody disappears altogether before returning, as if by magic. Chestnut works over the keyboard to win over the unnamed object of his desire, and it's hard to imagine anyone not giving in.

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