LET IT ROLL
This is the 14th release from the Madison label and features the usual superb production, with a gorgeous 16 page booklet, picture disc and seductive artwork that has you salivating in anticipation before you’ve even reached your CD player. The booklet is well designed and presented as a scrapbook, containing full colour photos throughout, together with relevant and interesting notes on each track. The disc contains 14 interesting performances spanning 1969-1977, which provide an entertaining selection from his later recording career, together with a fabulous unreleased live track from 1977. All selections are in fabulous crystal clear stereo sound quality.
The opening track consists of a short rehearsal, prior to a complete take of It’s Midnight, from the Stax studios in 1973 and sets the scene for the raw presentation of the songs which follow. The rehearsal features Elvis and his backing singers trying out the ending and then running through the lyrics prior to the first take. However there is an edit at this point and you can clearly hear the engineer say, “Let’s do one more…. still rolling, “which casts doubt as to whether this is in fact the unreleased take 1 as stated. Moreover, it also sounds identical to take 10 which was included on The Platinum Collection, where Elvis rushes the opening line by coming in a fraction too early. Even if this is the same take, as seems likely, it’s still nice to have the added count-in and this great performance in such excellent sound quality.
The next song, Bosom Of Abraham from 1971, features some dialogue regarding the tempo, with one of his backing group saying; “You’re the rhythm section, you’re supposed to get it right, we’re the singers.” This results in a false start, before an inspired take and in the dialogue afterwards Elvis proves to be in a great mood as well as in good voice for this session. Although this is listed as an unreleased alternate take, it has been suggested that this is in fact take 3, which was also previously included on the Platinum set.
The unedited master of I’m Leavin’ follows this which is mistakenly shown as take 8 on the jewelcase artwork, but correctly listed as take 5 in the booklet. It features the orchestral overdubs and runs for a further 5 seconds longer than the official release, before being abruptly halted with the comment, “That’s a gas, that’s good,” from the sound engineers.
Takes 2 and 3 of Always On My Mind are next and have previously been released on Platinum and 6363 Sunset respectively. This time however they are unedited, so we have the count-ins and a slightly longer running time. Take 2 runs for a further 5 seconds before ending with the comment, “Yeah it’s a gas…. let’s listen to it” and take 3 runs for only 2 seconds longer, before the comment, “O.K. let’s do one more real quick.” While both are interesting, they are nowhere near as fluid and assured as the master take which believe it or not was take 1.
After this, we have a truly dynamic and exciting performance of Promised Land, which was also previously available on Platinum. However the sound is better here and as a result, it proves impossible to sit still during this great performance which in turn begs to be turned up loud. In this unedited version we get the count-in and it also runs for 11 seconds longer, before falling apart at the end. This take was one away from the master which was take 6.
The next selection, My Way, is another first take master from 1971, but unfortunately, the rhythm used here does not suit the song. It was recorded here in a 12/8 rolling arpeggio style instead of the more usual 4/4 beat, with the result that the backing is ‘overly busy’ and proves distracting. In consequence, the constraint of this style tends to rob the song of its dramatic impact and the protracted ending does not help either, which may be why it remained unreleased until 1995. However, these criticisms aside, it is nicely sung and fits in well here, providing an effective contrast to the previous energetic rocker.
All gloom and solemnity are immediately blown away by the track following this which captures Elvis in exuberant mood during his 1971 May recording session, where he sings a chorus of Johnny B Goode before jokingly attempting a slow blues ending. His comments show him to be in great form and thoroughly enjoying himself at this session. At one point he calls out, “Leon, leon…that’s noel backwards man,” to general laughter, before we hear a count in for take 1 of an unspecified song. It’s only a snippet in truth, lasting 1.13 seconds, but it breaks the mood spectacularly and provides a fun moment, serving as an effective bridge for the next rocker—Patch It Up.
This track features the master (take 8) which although clipped at the start, is unedited on this release, providing a further 16 seconds of the ending play-out than we have had before. It ends abruptly with the comment, “That’s a gas,” from the control room, (obviously the hip comment at the time), followed by laughter from the control room indicating satisfaction that they had another master completed.
This is then followed by a real highlight for “live” aficionados, as we have a muti-track recording of Help Me from Saginaw 3rd May 1977. This is presumably sourced from Felton Jarvis’ attempt to record something interesting during these early tours for inclusion in the upcoming Moody Blue album. We have of course had other great quality tracks recorded in this manner on the FTD Spring Tours album and similarly, the quality here is fantastic, featuring a really strong punchy bass drum sound. In fact the instrumental separation and clarity are so good, this could almost be mistaken for a studio recording!
Lastly, we travel back in time to 1969 for three magnificent complete takes of Without Love, which amply demonstrate Elvis’ quest for perfection at this time. In truth all takes are very similar with the master having a slightly longer ending note and I mean slightly—blink and you’d miss it. However, his voice is in fantastic shape and without doubt he duly produces the definitive haunting and desolate interpretation of this great song. Sadly, this final exquisite performance serves as a premature end to this CD, which runs for a total of 46.11 minutes.
In conclusion, this release serves as an extremely listenable and perfectly paced aural scrapbook of some interesting performances spanning his later years. Although I would not regard the contents as essential due to the relatively short running time and few true rarities, it is nonetheless an entertaining and high quality production which I suspect will be revisited often. In short it’s a nice addition to any collection and definitely deserves your support. It may also be worth considering that these Madison releases are bound to become sought after collectors’ items in years to come, especially for their superior production —perhaps another reason not to miss this one now!
SOUND RATING *****
Reviewed by Mike Sanders (UK)