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The complete Burbank sessions, Volume 2

Audifon AFNCD 627968 (Released 1990)

Heartbreak hotel
Baby what you want me to do
That's all right
Are you lonesome tonight
Baby what you want me to do
Blue suede shoes
One night
Love me
Tryin' to get to you
Lawdy miss clawdy
Santa Claus is back in town
Blue Christmas
Tiger man
When my blue moon turns to gold again
(Recorded live, Burbank studios, June 26, 1968, 8 P.M. show)

"This music is full of humor, delight and blood -- with Elvis' buddies shouting for another chorus or Elvis forcing one. Compared to this -- very likely the greatest rock'n'roll ever recorded -- the Million Dollar Quartet is nothing."

American music critic/historian Greil Marcus, speaking from his seminal book "Mystery Train" (1975, fourth revised edition 1997), is referring to the famous "sit down" shows given by Elvis for inclusion in his 1968 TV special. This disc contains exactly half of the rock'n'roll that he justifiably praises.

Elvis never looks more handsome, or seems more vibrant than the two weeks in June, 1968 when he taped his TV show. And the most glorious portions of the program, save the opening "Trouble/Guitar Man" and closing "If I Can Dream" segments, are the "sit down" shows. From visionary director Steve Binder's idea to capture informal jamming (done in Elvis' dressing room with original bandmates Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana), an evening was set aside to simply tape these moments and see if they yielded anything worthwhile. They succeeded beyond anyone's wildest dreams.

This disc, unfortunately taken directly from the original 1978 vinyl release rather than a tape source, remains essential because of its content. Here is Elvis, clothed in black leather, in front of a real audience for just the second time since the March, 1961 Pearl Harbor Benefit show in Hawaii (the first time was just an hour before!). Tomorrow is a long time, indeed. Sitting on chairs in the now-familiar "boxing ring" stage, Elvis chooses songs more by memory than a script. He is looser and somewhat cocky during this second "sit down" show, due as much to the screaming girls at this taping as to his apparent realization that he's just as good now as he ever was.

As the second show begins, Elvis handles acoustic guitar, Scotty picks electric lead, D.J. taps his sticks on a guitar case (!) and Charlie Hodge sings some harmonies and strums an unamplified electric. But after a few numbers Elvis, as in the first show, "switches axes" with Scotty and attacks the electric with the same power he invests in his singing, running his fingers up and down the bass strings just like in the early days. It's simple, basic and magnificent.

For whatever reason, guilt, anger or fear, Elvis Presley sings these songs with an absolute fury; his voice hits the listener with such force it's akin to defining the difference being dead and being alive.
After this night he never sung this way again.

The highlights are everywhere on this disc, among them a mature yet aggressive rendition of "That's All Right, Mama" (Scotty's lead is note perfect -- in a heartbeat Elvis proves he's lost nothing from those classic days at Sun Studios!), a slow blues version of "Baby, What You Want Me To Do", a totally committed version of "Love Me" (harmony provided by Charlie Hodge -- these shows were Charlie's finest moment as well, feeding Elvis' passion by egging him on to do more, go farther on each song), "Tiger Man" done in the style of Rufus Thomas' 1953 Sun single, and possibly Elvis' greatest five minutes with his lung-bursting, life-affirming workouts on "Trying To Get To You" and "Lawdy Miss Clawdy".

Additionally, you hear Elvis fooling around with lines from "MacArthur Park" a couple of times and learn that his "favorite Christmas song, of all the ones I've recorded" is "Santa Claus Is Back In Town"! He can't remember the lyrics so he deftly segues into "Blue Christmas", but NBC cut the Lieber/Stoller number, so it's never made it to official release. Perhaps "Blue Christmas" is really his second favorite holiday number. Elvis also trashes "Heartbreak Hotel", but unlike the 70's, this is not due to lack of inspiration or respect, he's just having fun on stage.

In comparison to the 6pm gig, RCA selected several songs from this 8pm show for official release. Elvis had, in the space of an hour, refined his performance to an almost white heat intensity. He's confident, assured and out of this world. To paraphrase Mr. Marcus, this is music that bleeds. And it's very nice to hear this performance in its entirety.

Every second of each of these shows should be in one's collection, and this cd is undeniably essential.

Reviewed by Johnny Savage, USA

Sound rate ***