TENNESSEE STARLIGHT

This is the second release from the Straight Arrow label, (the first being the excellent Pieces Of My Life) and this time we have an audience recording of Elvis’ performance at Johnson City on the nineteenth of February 1977. Similar to the Madison releases, they have produced a 16 page booklet containing no less than 29 high quality colour photos taken from the actual concert, together with a commentary of the show itself and further text providing an overview of this period with dates, details of the musicians and attendance figures for this particular tour. It is extensive, well researched and quite superb, giving a very high quality feel to this production, not to mention raising the bar for the standard of future import releases.

So how about the sound quality? I have to admit to feeling a bit apprehensive when this show was advertised to be released as I had previously heard a CDR version of this show and it was not easy to listen to. No mention was made of the availability of a different source and we are all aware that remastering has limitations. I was therefore completely unprepared, in fact taken aback, when I first heard this CD because the sound is fresh, vibrant, clear, punchy, powerful and extremely atmospheric—in short a first class audience recording. My initial thought was that this had to be from a different, albeit unattributed source but the presence of identical comments from audience members close to the recorder on both editions proves it to be the same. Therefore full credit and the highest praise is due to those involved in remastering this show as the resultant sound quality is an amazing achievement—a truly fabulous result from the source available.

The CD starts with a very atmospheric 2001 theme owing to the enthusiastic audience being high in the mix. Right from the opening See See Rider, Elvis can be heard to be in a good mood and strong voice tonight. His good humour is present in I Got A Woman which features a five verse extended Amen chorus with Elvis changing the key no less than 3 times. “Take it a step higher” then “Another half” he calls out, finally “Higher”. He was obviously in the mood for singing tonight. During Love Me, he attends to his fans at the ringside as usual, laughing and calling out to his girlfriend “Come here Ginger….catch ‘em” at one point. Both If You Love Me and You Gave Me A Mountain which follow, are sung well, with Elvis’ voice sounding powerful and strong. “My third movie was called Jailhouse Rock. I was a couple of years younger and my voice was higher….so you know…I’ll try” leads into the usual two verse version with an extended final chorus after a false start. It’s Now Or Never follows this, which includes the standard O Sole Mio introduction and features a prominent trumpet accompaniment giving this song a different feel to earlier versions. During Little Sister, Elvis puts extra emphasis on some of the lyrics, displaying an extra effort in performance for this show. There is an edit immediately before the Teddy Bear/Don’t Be Cruel medley and the next song, My Way, is introduced with a familiar admission. “I’d like to do a song Frank Sinatra did…I don’t know the words to it, so I’ll have to read it…” he says and it’s interesting that this introduction was repeated in the CBS-TV special four months later, even though this song was a staple of his shows throughout this year. He goes on to perform a great version, full of deep seated regret and reflection. It is easy to see why this had such a resonance with him at this stage of his life and it is truly heartbreaking, as he brings an added poignancy to the lyrics and feelings expressed here.

The band introductions, which follow, are greeted with enthusiastic applause throughout. Sherrill Nielson is accused of ‘singing too pretty’ and Larry Strickland is introduced as “the guy who does my bass notes when I can’t hit them” This statement by Elvis is so honest, revealing and ultimately sad that our hearts immediately go out to him. A global superstar with such candour is hard to find nowadays! During Early Morning Rain, Kathy Westmoreland gets to sing one line solo, providing a nice moment and overall it proves to be a good version of a song often relegated to a short showcase of John Wilkinson’s ability within the group. Later in the introductions, Elvis refers to Love Letters as being one of the first songs he recorded with David Briggs and he goes on to perform a committed version, unfortunately running at a tempo which is too slow to do it justice. This song was plagued by this same difficulty during many of his shows. Hurt is introduced as “one of my latest records” and he performs a good version with an even better (and thus more vocally challenging) reprise of the ending afterwards. This seems to tire him, as Sherrill is asked to sing Danny Boy and then Walk With Me. Afterwards, Elvis ignores suggestions for the next song, saying “Let’s do something drastic…like Polk Salad” which was extremely unusual at this point in the show. It’s a surprising choice and in truth he sounds a little breathless, but this version is given life by the powerful instrumental backing. He then introduces his girlfriend’s older sister, Terry Alden, to the audience as the reigning Miss Tennessee, before immediately starting his closing number with the telling lyric change “Wise men know when it’s time, time to go”. Again he sounds breathless and his backing groups go on to carry the song towards the end. The CD ends with the usual closing vamp and announcements.

To sum up, the production on this release is superb, with the quality of the booklet and the incredible work on the sound and mix being extraordinary. The concert itself is very atmospheric and the resultant sound quality allows us to experience the full excitement and feel of an Elvis Presley show from an audience perspective at this time. Whilst the show starts out very well, it later betrays the fact that Elvis’ stamina was lower during this period, as momentum is lost during the protracted band introductions and when Sherrill Nielson is asked to sing two songs, to provide a further break after an energy sapping performance on Hurt. However, the surprising decision to sing Polk Salad Annie at a late stage, together with the introduction of his girlfriend’s sister provides added interest to this show. Taken together, this is another great release and deserves support from any fan who appreciates the charisma and enduring appeal of Elvis in concert. Or if you prefer your recommendations more succinct—it’s another winner from this dedicated new label.

SOUND RATING **½

Reviewed by Mike Sanders (UK)