The bootleg scenery nowadays is tagged by re-releases of bootleg CDs from the golden days in the nineties. Fair enough to say that a lot of them did get an upgrade in sound quality. Also most of them are wrapped in a nice package. The first releases from the Venus label weren’t an exception. The sound quality was fine and the packaging was unique for bootleg releases. If anything was questionable it was the content.
Now they’re coming up with Christmas alternates in May. Other than on their previous releases this one will come in a modest jewel-case instead of the CD/book combo. As I got a CDR copy for doing a review I really can’t say anything about the final artwork. I haven’t seen no whit more than the front cover as they’re posted in the preannouncement in the import news. The covers look good to me and they put up some high expectations about the final result, but the main question is, if this release can deliver the goods.
The answer is an easy one after listening to it: yes, it can! This is one of the biggest surprises in years and comes totally unexpected. The main focus is bent on outtakes from Christmas songs recorded in May 1971. This is frickin' exciting to me as we didn't get to much undubbed recordings from those sessions until now. Now let’s get into it and have a closer look on the material.
The CD starts with an unreleased take 6 of "I'll Be Home On Christmas Day". It's a complete take that lasts 4.03 min and it sounds mighty fine! Next is also a complete and also unreleased take 3 of "Holly Leaves And Christmas Trees". It's a relief to hear the song without those tacky overdubs that Jarvis did on this song. The undubbed version is a real beauty and wins hands down over the overdubbed version. Possibly it might be a question of Zeitgeist, that a lot of people prefer spare instrumentation over those kitschy overdubs Jarvis did. For me alone I can say that I didn’t care to much about Jarvis overdubs on Elvis recordings.
The unreleased undubbed master of "On A Snowy Christmas Night" is the third track on the CD. It's taken from an excellent sounding acetate! The undubbed master take of "The Wonderful World Of Christmas" is next - also taken from an acetate. Once again the sound is very good! Take 1 of "Silver Bells" is next. It was former released on "If Every Day Was Like Christmas". As a bonus we get a short studio banter and the count in. Track 6 offers the former unreleased takes 1 & 2 of "I'll Be Home On Christmas Day" including some studio banter. Take 1 is only a false start while take 2 lasts at least for 1 ½ minutes.
The former released "The Lord's Prayer" (~ "Essential Elvis Volume 4") is next and something I skip almost every time. The next three alternate takes are all unreleased. As I've said before: without those terrible overdubs "Holly Leaves And Christmas Trees" is one song I begin to like a lot. The undubbed master of "The First Noel" is obviously taken from an acetate, but the sound is very good on this one besides a low-keyed crackle sound, comparable to an often played vinyl record! Track 10 shows to me that Elvis wasn't in such a bad mood as Jorgensen will make us to believe in his book “A Life In Music”. He's cracking a joke on Esposito before starting take 7 of "Winter Wonderland": “Reverent Joe Esposito will now speak a few words of inspiration …. What the **** do you want!!” Everyone is having a good laugh on it. It’s getting obvious at the very end of the song where Elvis screwed up the ending and is laughing out loud.
Next offers at least two other new takes form "I'll Be Home On Christmas Day" (tks. 5 & 7), while take 3 was former released on FTDs "I Sing All Kinds". "Merry Christmas" was released before, but here we can listen to the introductions that Elvis gave the musicians before starting the song: “Just run it a couple down and I’ll come in there, you know, somewhere … let’s set the rhythm first, you know” which is very cool imo.
Next is the unreleased undubbed master of „If I Get Home On Christmas Day“. The soundquality is that good, that it’s hard to believe that the source is an acetate. Really it is that good!
Track 14 is the undubbed master of „Silver Bells“ which was former released on „O Come, All Ye Faithful“. The soundquality is very good, although the source is once again an acetate. That doesn’t the save the song for me as it’s one that I – honestly - don’t really care about.
The follow-up offers the takes 5,6,7 & 4 of „Holly Leaves And Christmas Trees“. The first three ones are all false starts. Take 4 was formerly released on FTDs „I Sing All Kinds“.
Track 16 is the undubbed master of „Winter Wonderland“ including the count-in. The source is a very good acetate. It was released several times before for e.g. „Christmas Peace“ or „If Every Day Was Like Christmas".
The last 7 tracks of the CD are complete unreleased (or at least half of it, as is the case on track 22). All of them are sourced from acetates. Only exception is track 21 that offers take 4 of “I’ll Be Home On Christmas Day”, which was formerly released on the 4th CD of the beautiful Platinum box-set.
Track 17 is the undubbed master of “It Won't Seem Like Christmas Without You”, followed by the beautiful undubbed master of “I’ll Be Home On Christmas Day”.
The superb sung undubbed master of “Holly Leaves And Christmas Trees” is a favorite of mine by now. Elvis did a tremendous job on it! The undubbed master of the Christmas traditional “O Come, All Ye Faithful” is beautiful sung by Elvis.
Last but not least are the uncut takes of “Silver Bells”. It’s interesting to hear, to say the least. Jarvis is calling out for take 3, but after a few seconds Elvis interrupted the musicians politely and excused himself “I can’t get into it. I’m sorry. Let’s get back to what we’ve had before.”
The CD plays for 76 minutes and I didn’t have heard any indication that Elvis was in a bad mood during these sessions. I wonder what Jorgensen might have heard on other recordings – if there are any – that let him make his conclusion about Presley’s mood.
CD one is essential for collectors and nothing less! Even if FTD will release this material – and theres’s no doubt that they’ll do that some time – you’ll never get all the stuff you’ll hear on this one. The sound is extra-ordinary good and almost perfect. That even goes for the acetates. Sometimes it’s hardly to believe that the source is an acetate. All the tracks are in stereo – so who can ask for more?
As I started to write down this review I thought by myself that this will be something that no one will take care of or even will listen to. But there's much more to this second disc as one might think while looking at the tracklisting. At first I thought that there's nothing new on it in comparison to the FTD classic album release "Today". But I gave it a spin and I'm really glad I did!
I was prejudiced as I put the disc in the player and turned up the volume. The disc started with the undubbed master of "T-R-O-U-B-L-E" and what a start it is! It does sound much more dynamic and so even more like a real rock song than it does on FTD's release where it sounds somewhat flat and a little lifeless to my ears.
It's followed by take 1 of "Green Green Grass Of Home" and it also got me by surprise. It plays nearly a minute longer than the same take on FTD's release! Then "Fairytale" started and I really felt over for the first time very much impressed by the natural warmth and dynamics of the recording which also played nearly a minute longer than on FTD's "Today".
Then the takes 2 & 3 of "Bringing It Back" and the undubbed master of "Susan When She Tried" filled my room and what a treat it is! It's nearly impossible to get not over-excited about the soundquality you'll about to hear.
Then it's time for "I Can Help" and you know after hearing the first seconds that FTD released a "cleaned" version. Here you can hear Elvis moaning "I'm tired of it! Billy Swan my ass!", before starting to sing that tune. We've heard him cursing even worse on other recording sessions, but to me it is no wonder FTD cut that out. The studio banter adds almost a minute to what we've heard until now. I wonder if Swan would have taken Presley’s socks (sic!) - that Elvis wore during the recording – as a present, if he had heard Elvis sayings.
The next few tracks are "And I love you so" (undubb. master), "Green Green Grass Of Home" (takes 2 &3) and "Woman Without Love" (undubb. master). Especially the sound on "And I Love You So" sends a chill down my spine.
Then it's time for the less unedited "Tiger Man"-Jam session and the sound is excellent, but I can’t hear such a big difference soundwise in comparison to the FTD release as I did on almost all the other tracks.
The jam session is followed by the undubbed master of "Bringing It Back" and take 1 of "And I Love You So". Both are playing slightly longer than what is released by now. Especially the sound of “Bringing It Back” is fantabulous!
"Shake A Hand" plays 40 seconds longer and gets interrupted by Felton Jarvis calling "Yeah, that's it!" Watch out for the background singers on this one! The next track offers take 4 & 5 of "Green Green Grass Of Home", whereas take 4 is only a false start that includes a short conversation between Jarvis and Elvis where Jarvis is asking for two more takes.
Then follows "Pieces Of My Life" that also plays slightly longer than on the FTD release.Last but not least, the second disc ends with take 1 of "Bringing It Back" which sounds mighty, mighty fine here!
As the music stopped I really held on for a minute and went on shaking my head in disbelief about the sound I had heard for the last 60 minutes. I really think that there is a broad agreement that Lene Reidel didn't get it right on the FTD's version of "Today". After hearing the new Venus CD I wonder if she's the one to blame, because one might get the impression that she didn't had the opportunity to work with the best available source around. Probably there’s something wrong in the state of Denmark.
In the end we've got to state, that this is a different and better sounding source of the "Today"-sessions. We'll get more studio banter, less edited songs and a soundquality of the "Today" tracks that will leave you behind, wanting even more stuff in that kind of quality.
In the end you'll have to compare it for yourself, but I'll give you my word that you'll find out that most of the tracks in “Venus sound” are better. FTDs "Today" will only take second place.
1-I'll Be Home On Christmas Day Take 6 4:03 ; 2- Holly Leaves And Christmas Trees Take 3 2:30 ; 3- On A Snowy Christmas Night undubbed master * 2:27 ; 4- The Wonderful World Of Christmas undubbed master * 1:59 ; 5- Silver Bells Take 1 3:05 ; 6- I'll Be Home On Christmas Day Takes 1-2 2:37 ; 7- The Lord's Prayer 2:36 ; 8- Holly Leaves And Christmas Trees Takes 1-2 3:04 ; 9- The First Noel undubbed master * 2:12 ; 10- Winter Wonderland Take 7 2:33 ; 11- I'll Be Home On Christmas Day Takes 5,7,3 6:56 ; 12- Merry Christmas Baby Fs, undubbed master * 7:55 ; 13- If I Get Home On Christmas Day undubbed master * 2:52 ; 14- Silver Bells undubbed master * 2:28 ; 15- Holly Leaves And Christmas Trees Takes 5,6,7,4 3:53 ; 16- Winter Wonderland undubbed master * 2:19 ; 17- It Won't Seem Like Christmas Without You undubbed master * 2:40 ; 18- I'll Be Home On Christmas Day undubbed master * 3:48 ; 19-Holly Leaves And Christmas Trees undubbed master * 2:21 ; 20- O Come, All Ye Faithful undubbed master * 2:58 ; 21- I'll Be Home On Christmas Day Take 4 5:06 ; 22- Silver Bells Fs,Tk2 (original session recording),Tk3 (Fs) 5:07
* from acetate
1 - T-R-O-U-B-LE Take 4 3:10 ; 2- Green Green Grass Of Home Fs, Take 1 4:21 ; 3- Fairytale Take 3 3:37 ; 4- Bringing It Back Takes 2,3 3:28; 5- Susan When She Tried Take 6 2:55 ; 6- I Can Help Fs, Take 2 5:11 ; 7- And I Love You So Take 5 3:51 ; 8- Green Green Grass Of Home Takes 2,3 4:23 ; 9- Woman Without Love Take 1 3:44 ; 10- Tiger Man session jam 3:15 ; 11- Bringing It Back Take 4 3:08 ; 12- And I Love You So Take 1 3:56 ; 13- Shake A Hand Take 3 4:00 ; 14- Green Green Grass Of Home Takes 4,5 4:15 ; 15- Pieces Of My Life Takes 4 3:57 ; 16- Bringing It Back Take 1 3:18