The American Way, Volume One (Southern Comfort)

What can you say about a man who has lost his way, getting back to where he once belonged?

Elvis Presley's rediscovery of his artistry in the late 1960s remains one of the most thrilling stories in rock and roll history. While slowly pulling away from stifling Hollywood film commitments, Presley somehow rededicates himself to recording viable, tough and worthy music for the marketplace.

Along with an unprecedented, dynamic and record-breaking solo TV Special, the public begins to re-embrace the man who dominated the 1950s. As 1969 dawns, as if to seal the deal, Elvis returns to Memphis to record new music with a talented, sympathetic producer named Chips Moman and his super-hot house band, and ends up with million-selling singles and albums of unbelievably high quality.

With the newly-released The American Way, Volume One, the deep fan can get all the way inside these magical 1969 nights at American Sound Studios, with a listen to the basic tracks made at these crucial sessions.

The enclosed booklet is chock-full of beautiful, contemporaneous color photos and assorted media -- and even a SUN tape box! -- along with skillful liner notes.

The first of a proposed five-disc set, Volume One features tunes chosen for single release by Elvis and Chips. All would be hits, with one taking the top of the charts in November.

"In The Ghetto" brings some concern that its topic will be "too political" for the Presley fan base. Fortunately, the sheer power of the Mac Davis composition wins the day, and Elvis creates a masterpiece. Twenty-three takes are made, we get 1 through 11 and a hint of 12. The early efforts, in the key of A, are little too heavy, and the arrangement isn't quite right. "That's a little ragged, right in there, could use a piano, piano chords in that part," notes Moman. Elvis maintains a razor-sharp focus throughout each try. A key change up to B flat, along with Reggie Young altering his acoustic guitar from busy country figures to an easier, simpler folk style, improves the process in dramatic fashion.

Biographer Peter Guralnick is most impressed with the accomplishments on this date. He terms Elvis' singing on this January 20th evening "of such unassuming, almost translucent eloquence, it is so quietly confident in its simplicity, so well supported by the kind of elegant, no-frills small-group backing that was the hallmark of the American style - it makes a statement almost impossible to deny."

Just three days later, Elvis works on a Mark James contribution that would hit #1 later that year, "Suspicious Minds." From takes 1 through 7 Presley's selfsame total focus is exhibited, along with a bit of hilarious profanity during one breakdown.

Although taking the arrangement from James's flop 1968 Scepter single, both band and singer elevate "Suspicious Minds" to places no one else can dream of. In a few hours, Elvis has waxed one of the ten greatest songs of his entire career.

"His singing achieves the same kind of tenderness and poise that it did on 'In The Ghetto,' with one significant element added - an expressive quality somewhere between stoicism (at suspected infidelity) and anguish (over impending loss)," observes Guralnick.

Modern ballad classic "Kentucky Rain" is born on February 19. "I like that tempo ... it's about right, but it needs to have a little edge to it," commands Chips after a rehearsal before take 1. Precisely! It is from such right-minded observations that remarkable records are made, and this comment cements the importance such people played in some of the vital moments of the Presley career.

"Kentucky Rain" is Elvis again walking the line between passion and parody -- the song's paranoid hysteria would be a joke in the hands of any other singer -- and winning. Tentative exertion comes at the start, due to inherent, unusual tempo changes and lyrics. We hear takes 1-9, with lots of false starts in-between. It is take 10 that ultimately becomes the master.

"I wanna hold that take, and we'll cut one (more). Elvis, you're singing the hell out of that," exclaims Chips at the end of take 9.

After the big three, the rest of this CD feels like wonderful bonus cuts.

"Rubberneckin'" is made on January 21 in one complete take. There's a false start, some kind of nasty (unheard) joke -- one can clearly hear Charlie Hodge and Lamar Fike's distinctive laughter -- and then they roll into master take 2. A friend calls this track Elvis doing a variation of Sesame Street's "Schoolhouse Rock," but its funky groove cannot be denied.

Plenty of double entendres fill the lyrics, and Elvis' rides them all with his usual good humour. Reggie Young's swampy guitar licks only up the excitement. But who's doing those live handclaps?

Volume One wraps up with two of the cleanest-sounding acetates in history, one for "Don't Cry Daddy" (taped on January 15, with Presley vocal overdubs coming on January 22), and "Mama Liked The Roses" (recorded on January 16, with Elvis handling vocal overdubs and a monologue on January 21). Although listed as "undubbed," this mostly refers to unwritten string arrangements.

"Don't Cry Daddy" is another superb Mac Davis composition, heavily sentimental, yet never maudlin. Daughter Lisa Marie would use this as her showcase "duet" many years later at "Elvis Week" in Memphis. Listen for Elvis' very own harmony vocals on each of these -- that's the sound of a dedicated recording artist, friends. These last two offerings may well be the actual tracks submitted to arrangers Glen Spreen and Mike Leech, in order to do their job.

In a January 23, 1969 Memphis Commercial Appeal interview with Moman and Presley, Elvis admitted "We have some hits, don't we Chips?" "Maybe some of your biggest," Chips replied.

Here with the Southern Comfort label's The American Way, Volume One, the allure of Elvis Presley at the top of his game is now at your fingertips.

[Johnny Savage, USA]

(review #2)



This CD has been issued under the Southern Comfort label, being the first of five volumes to cover the ’69 American Sound recordings. This volume features outtakes of the songs that became hits, namely: In The Ghetto, Suspicious Minds, Kentucky Rain together with a complete take of Rubberneckin’ and acetates of Don’t Cry Daddy and Mama Liked The Roses.


Unfortunately I am not sufficiently acquainted with previous releases of this material to offer comparisons, but according to sessions expert Keith Flynn,” It has never been (issued) as complete as it is here nor in the same sound quality.” Certainly I can assure you that you will not be disappointed, as this is an excellent production, aiming to be the definitive release of all material currently available from these sessions.


The artwork is gorgeous, consisting of a 16 page booklet similar in style and layout to those included in the Madison releases. It contains interesting liner notes and newspaper clippings documenting the ’68—’69 period, with fabulous colour photos showing Elvis in his prime. In addition, there’s a brief rundown of each of the songs featured on this album.


The sound quality, though mono for all selections apart from Rubberneckin’( which is in stereo), is crystal clear throughout and although there is a slight hiss on Rubberneckin’ and Don’t Cry Daddy, it is not intrusive and does not detract in any way.


Finally, all the multiple takes included here have been edited together seamlessly and result in compelling listening, documenting the evolution of these classic recordings with occasional snippets of studio banter.  Looking a little more closely:


In The Ghetto: (takes 1-11) It is fascinating to hear the arrangement building on this haunting lament. The early takes are hampered by an awkward guitar riff, which is corrected by take 5 and changed again from take 7, then back again for take 11. Piano is added and appears more prominent from take 10 onwards, with a different drum pattern featured on take 11. (The master was take 23) (Running time 20.35mins)


Suspicious Minds: (takes 1-7) On take 1 Elvis mistimes his vocals leading to some colourful language. The tempo is increased from take 5, with another vocal breakdown but by take 7 is much more accomplished, with Elvis saying, “Save that last one Chips.” (The master was take 8) (Running time 13.17mins)


Kentucky Rain: (takes 1-9) This session begins with a comment from the control booth, calling for ‘a little more edge.’ On take 3, snare drum rim shots are added to great effect for the opening verse and Elvis injects much more passion and urgency into his performance from take 5 onwards. Also on this take, his band experiment with a different rhythmic pattern during the 3rd verse, causing a breakdown. Take 6 features more rhythmic experimentation on this same verse, but much more successfully this time and take 7 sounds close to the master, resulting in the comment, “Elvis, you’re singing the hell out of it.” (The master was take 10) (Running time 22.59mins)


Rubberneckin’ (No take info provided) Dialogue and laughter lead to a false start, before an enjoyable take featuring the bass drum high in the mix, which gives this song considerable punch. (The master was take 2) (3.57mins)


Don’t Cry Daddy: (Acetate) Although this is from an acetate, you would never know it as the sound quality is fantastic. It is undubbed and features a count-in leading to another intimate and exquisite performance. (The master was apparently a backing track with overdubs) (2.54 mins)


Mama Liked The Roses: (Acetate) This is another crystal clear performance without overdubs, which sounds much better in this raw stripped down state. (The master also appears to have been an overdubbed backing track) (2.47 mins)


In short, this is a fascinating and essential purchase for all those who appreciate Elvis’ committed attempts during this period to record some of the best performances of his career. Moreover, in my opinion, there is simply no substitute to hearing the selections featured here, in order to appreciate the amazing sound quality and skilful editing of this well designed production. Without doubt, this is a great start to what promises to be a wonderful series.









Reviewed by Mike Sanders (UK)