The Las Vegas Years Volume 2 - Early Morning Rain 

 

This is the third release from the Audiophile label and contains an audience recording of the 7th December 1975 evening show in Las Vegas. This concert was performed during a two week engagement in December to compensate for his August shows which were cut short due to ill health earlier in the year. Although five other shows have been issued on CD from this season, this one is unusual as it features Jerome Munroe (the drummer for the Sweet Inspirations) standing in for Ronnie Tutt, who was absent due to the imminent birth of his son.

 

It comes with an attractive eight page booklet, featuring an overview of the period with a great selection of colour photos and concludes with two contemporary reviews which provide an interesting impression of shows from the time. Of particular interest is a quote attributed to Robert Hillburn from the Los Angeles Times, who writes that whereas “His material needs updating and the pacing could be sharpened…. the voice and charisma remain in a class by themselves.”

 

Although the sound is good, being both reasonably clear and free from hiss, some of the dialogue remains difficult to make out. However despite this, it still proves easy and enjoyable to listen to, with the echo of the showroom effectively conveying the intimate atmosphere of the occasion.

 

The recording begins during the 2001 introduction, which is followed by See See Rider and I Got A Woman, with the usual vocal slide from J.D.Sumner. Afterwards, in his opening address, Elvis explains the reason for Ronnie Tutt’s absence and introduces Jerome Munroe remarking, “You’ve stayed in the sun too long son.”  Love Me is performed next, but at a slower pace than usual with an extended final note to tax his backing vocalists.

 

At this point Elvis introduces a 5 year old child from the audience who says he sings and dances like him and asks whether he could accompany him singing Hound Dog. This request is immediately accepted and provokes widespread laughter during the ensuing performance. Afterwards Elvis suggests another song asking, “Can you do it?...Oh you’re not ready for that…give him a hand folks,” which prompts enthusiastic applause. It’s a nice moment and a clear demonstration of the relaxed and happy atmosphere this evening.

 

The show continues with Fairytale, whose bouncy tempo always seems to me to be at odds with the sad lyric, followed by a committed performance of And I Love You So. Afterwards, he introduces Trying To Get To You as, “One of our older songs which we’ve been doing a lot lately,” which provokes squeals of delight and results in another great performance.

 

All Shook Up is quickly followed by the Teddy Bear / Don’t Be Cruel medley, after which Elvis announces that, “We don’t have any set pattern as far as the songs are…we just do whatever we feel…whatever comes up.” This results in a chorus of requests, before he starts One Night, which receives a fine performance. Polk Salad Annie follows this and is also good but the drumming is less powerful here than we are used to from Ronnie Tutt.

 

Immediately after this, some persistent fans in the balcony request scarves, which leads to some comic banter about the method by which this could be achieved. It seems this group were regulars, as he goes on to mention that they’re, “The same one’s who asked for Sweet Caroline and caused James Burton to get his fingers caught in the strings.” (from the day before). Further requests are shouted out for I’ll Remember You and How Great Thou Art which Elvis acknowledges saying, “OK I’ll do ‘em, just let me get to the introductions of my group first.”

 

During the introductions, Kathy Westmoreland receives a particularly enthusiastic reception causing Elvis to remark, “Your family up there then Kathy?” Jerome Munroe is introduced under his nickname ‘Stump’ and has to be coaxed into performing a solo with a few words of encouragement and a helping hand from James Burton, who plays along at the beginning of his solo and intermittently throughout. In truth none of the band solos sound particularly inspired tonight with the exception of some blistering guitar work during the orchestra solo on Hail Hail Rock And Roll. This is granted an additional reprise to focus on the guitar player, named Tony, who Elvis describes as ‘weird.’

 

After this, he sings I’ll Remember You to honour the earlier request, which was the only time this song was performed during this season. It proves to be a nice version. This is followed by How Great Thou Art together with a reprise, which was a regular inclusion at this time. A full version of Early Morning Rain is sung next, which was very rare for this year. It proves to be a superb performance and incomparably better than the short excerpts that were played in succeeding years to showcase John Wilkinson’s talent.  It’s Now Or Never follows this, before two new songs which were introduced this season.

 

The first is a melodramatic duet of Softly As I Leave You featuring Sherrill Nielsen, which includes a spoken introduction to give a context for the lyric. However unlikely this story appears in hindsight, it’s clear that Elvis believed in it from his unusual arrangement. This is followed by a rousing version of America, which is also sung with genuine emotion as displayed in the affected way he sings the word “Majesty’ in the spoken refrain. Afterwards, he mentions that “It’s really good to be back working again” before quickly launching into Can’t Help Falling In Love, which ends with a fantastic vocal reach on the ending notes. The recording fades out during the closing vamp.

 

Several bonus tracks follow this, which are taken from earlier shows during this engagement and presented in similar sound quality. First up is Blue Christmas, where Elvis instructs his band to ‘slow down’ at one point, followed by My Boy which was also from the show on the 3rd December. Just Pretend is dedicated to his girlfriend Linda Thompson and was a regular inclusion this season, whilst Bridge Over Troubled Water was sung only once. Both of these songs are from the show the day after. They are all good performances and make a nice bonus to round off this CD.

 

In conclusion, this is an interesting show from this engagement featuring a different drummer in the line-up. Although slight differences in drumming style can be heard in Jerome Munroe’s performance, they are not immediately obvious in this sound quality.  However a rare complete version of Early Morning Rain and attractive presentation make this a worthwhile contender for any serious collection. 

 

SOUND RATING **

 

Reviewed by Mike Sanders (UK)