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The brightest star on Sunset Boulevard vol. 1

Fort Baxter 2205 (Released 1998)

That's all right
I got a woman
The wonder of you
I've lost you
The next step is love
Stranger in the crowd
You've lost that lovin' feeling
Something
Don't cry daddy
Don't cry daddy (reprise)
You don't have to say you love me
Polk salad annie
Bridge over troubled water
I can't stop loving you
Just pretend
(Rehearsals, RCA Studios, Hollywood, CA, July 24, 1970)

The year 1970 was busy by anyone's standard, let alone Elvis Presley's. In twelve months there were two studio sessions, two month-long stands in Las Vegas (yielding a live LP, a live/studio hybrid, several singles and a documentary film), plus short tours to Texas in the spring and around the West Coast in the fall! To top it off, in December he snuck out of Graceland on a whim to visit US President Richard Nixon, which he completed without much trouble at all.

The start of the new decade found Elvis in the midst of reaping the benefits of his spectacular December '68 TV Special and dynamic studio sessions at American Studios in Memphis. He'd also returned to the concert stage with a more mature but still exciting stage show, featuring great musicians like James Burton on lead guitar, Glen D. Hardin tickling the ivories and Ronnie Tutt pounding drums.

For the Elvis fan, the "import" releases in the past year of several rhythm band-only rehearsals prior to his August'70 Vegas gig has been both a revelation and reason to celebrate. For those who want to know about Presley's musicianship, goofy humour and ability to lead and interact with a band, it's all here. And now, thanks to the people who run Fort Baxter (anyone there named Doberman?), the best of these July practices is available: July 24, 1970 at RCA Studios in Hollywood, CA.

Unlike the July 16 or 29th rehearsals held on MGM's sound stage in Culver City, this was obviously a much more serious undertaking by Presley and his core band. The RCA studio is the same one the 1960 "G.I. Blues" soundtrack was recorded at, and would later yield "Burning Love" in '72 and the entire 'Elvis Today' album in 1975. Long-time engineer Al Pachucki handled this session, which might explain why the stereo mix is superb (perhaps Pachucki's MGM counterparts didn't understand what needles going into the red on recording equipment meant, or didn't care; in any case, this is the only July rehearsal that sounds awesome).

The songs here are performed as if they are doing "the set"; it's easy to imagine that, whereas the other daytime rehearsals were for the documentary cameras, this evening at RCA (without anyone filming it) was for Elvis to take home and listen to. His singing, for the most part, is much more focused; this is Presley the artist, deciding what will and won't work in concert.

The first volume of the night's work comprises 15 tunes, done in an order not dissimilar to what his show would be like in August. The disc begins with a bang with Ronnie Tutt's snare hitting the intro to "That's All Right" in much the same way one can hear it in the "That's The Way It Is" film. Elvis fills in the backing vocals of the call and response chorus himself. "I've Lost You" reveals El's on-the-spot arranging ("the moment love grows cold ... a little heavier"), while the reprise of "Don't Cry Daddy" (first heard on Captain Marvel Jr's 'Good Times Never Seemed So Good' last year as a bonus track) displays Presley's somewhat less-impressive, on-the-spot lyric-changing ability ("together we'll put you on a bomber ... ").

When not fooling around, one notices the grace with which Elvis delivers "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" (note the "there's no welcome look in your eyes" lyric, not done in concert) or "Bridge Over Troubled Water." There's an appealing, weary edge to his voice; "I've Lost You" gains from this cracking quality, and the absence of strings and a dozen other vocalists only enhances its strangely attractive, melancholy chorus. The nicest surprise of Volume One is a super-cool, understated version of "Just Pretend"; this gospel-informed ballad, one of the best from his June'70 Nashville recording session, gets more of a bluesy treatment here and is a fine way to end the rehearsal.

Actually, it ends with a bathroom break request from drummer Tutt, which Elvis charmingly denotes with a bastardized line from Joe South's "Don't It Make You Wanna Go Home." When they got back from break, even more interesting things happened. But that's a story for Volume Two!

Reviewed by Johnny Savage, USA

Sound rate **** 1/2