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Good times never seemed so good

Captain Marvel JR. Records 2001-7 (Released 1998)

Elvis about the Elvis Presley show - Press Conference, Houston, Texas (Feb 27, 1970)
See see rider (Feb 18, 1970)
I got a woman (Aug 24, 1970)
Don't cry daddy (Feb 17, 1970)
Walk a mile in my shoes (Feb 18, 1970)
Release me (Feb 18, 1970)
Kentucky rain (Feb 18, 1970)
Polk Salad Annie (Feb 18, 1970)
Sweet Caroline (Feb 16, 1970)
Proud Mary (Feb 16, 1970)
Let it be me (Feb 15, 1970)
Walk a mile in my shoes #2 (Feb 19, 1970)
Yesterday (Aug 25, 1970)
The wonder of you (Feb 18, 1970)
Runaway (Aug 24, 1969)
Polk Salad Annie #2 (Feb 17, 1970)
Let it be me #2 (Feb 17, 1970)
Don't cry daddy #2 (July 24, 1970)
I just can't help believin' (July 24, 1970)
You've lost that lovin' feeling (July 24, 1970)

A general consensus amongst knowledgeable Elvis fans is that his performances of July/August 1969 and January/February 1970 are of the highest caliber. It is only at these two engagements where one hears the tough, gritty rock'n'roll voice of the 1968 TV Special; after these 100+ gigs, it seems Elvis began to "relax" -- he still had "it", his audiences adoring and accepting. This new disc, rumoured to originate from a collection of Colonel Parker acetates, captures Elvis at his performing peak and in superb sound as well. About half of the tracks on this disc are "unsweetened" versions of the official 'On Stage - February 1970' album, in some ways his most exciting "mature" live album, with songs drawn from both of the afore-mentioned engagements in Las Vegas (RCA/BMG would be well-advised to reissue the album, dropping the 'February 1970' part, with bonus tracks such as what's on this disc).

On this "private" release "unsweetened" means that Elvis' voice has less reverb on it and the backing vocal overdubs of March and April 1970 are missing. In many cases that only makes for a more appealingly aggressive sound, as on "C. C. Rider", "Runaway" or "Release Me". "The Wonder Of You", a number one U.K. single, reveals the Sweet Inspirations horribly off-key on one chorus refrain (blame the monitors), necessitating a vocal repair later. Beyond the other less-interesting covers of "Sweet Caroline", "Yesterday" or "Proud Mary" (why didn't he choose to do more of his Memphis '69 material or additional classic Elvis stuff??) are simply fabulous alternate renderings of "I Got A Woman", "Kentucky Rain", "Polk Salad Annie" and "Don't Cry Daddy". It's really nice to get these tracks in such pristine quality (originally found on 1979's 'Behind Closed Doors' 4 LP box set -- but why omit that brilliant master of "Suspicious Minds", it's the single best live version of the song, ever!?!), although RCA did let "Don't Cry Daddy" slip out on 1981's lame 'Greatest Hits, Vol. 1' compilation and placed an inferior February '70 live version of "Kentucky Rain" on 'Elvis Aron Presley'. Additionally, the "Let It Be Me" rendition from February 15 is also the track closer (sans Valentine's Day dialogue and kiss with a fan) on RCA's 'A Legendary Performer, Vol. 3' from 1978.

Hearing Elvis treat his songs with all the dynamism and respect they deserve is a thrill. Despite the tawdry Vegas setting, this is a chart-topping artist, looking great and singing well-arranged numbers for sell-out crowds. Elvis, what happened?? "Kentucky Rain" on this set is just fantastic -- and poignant, as its author Eddie Rabbit just passed away at 53 (Elvis' recording of the song was his first big break in the music industry). "I Got A Woman" (also available on private release 'Here We Go Again') is incredibly tight -- Elvis' awesome vocals recall that fiery night in June 1968, while Ronnie Tutt's bass drums crack like thunder! He never did "Polk Salad Annie" any better than in February '70, and here we have two loose as a goose, sexy, swampy performances. Captain Marvel Jr. even prefaces the tunes with relevant highlights from his February '70 Houston Astrodome press conference -- a nice touch.

The bonus tracks come from another goofy unreleased rehearsal session, July 24, 1970, at RCA's Los Angeles studio on Santa Monica Boulevard (Elvis would cut great rockers there -- "Burning Love" in 1972, "T-R-O-U-B-L-E" in 1975). He "gets silly" during "Don't Cry Daddy" ("I didn't say nothin' ... "), jumps ahead of the band on a relaxed "I Just Can't Help Believin'" and accurately mimics Righteous Brother Bill Medley (he of the low voice) on "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" before crashing into the "nasty Elvis" only his musicians and close friends were privy to. There's nothing spectacular here, but it remains fun to imagine being part of the core TCB band -- let's hope to hear the unedited "Stranger In My Own Hometown" (officially released from this same rehearsal, without naughty words, on the 70's box set) on a future Captain Marvel Jr. disc.

If 'Good Times' included the February '70 master of "Suspicious Minds" it would be supreme -- in any case, this is a terrific collection and comes highly recommended.

Reviewed by Johnny Savage, USA

Sound rate **** 1/2